Athens City Council members agreed to make the West Union Street buildings, which were damaged by a fire in November, a “historic district” so their owners could apply for tax credits to help pay for reconstruction efforts.
Athens City Planner Paul Logue initially proposed to include the buildings in Athens Downtown Historic District, which already included surrounding buildings on West Union and other buildings on Court Street.
Council members passed an ordinance Monday night granting that proposition.
Before council members could pass the ordinance, though, they had to hold a public meeting.
Two of the West Union Street building owners, Pete Couladis and Guy Phillips, asked council to approve the new legislation at the public meeting.
Phillips, property owner with Housing HotLink, which owns 14 1/2 W. Union St. which houses the Smoke Zone Smoke Shop, said tax credits would help offset the costs of reconstruction.
The historical designation would qualify building owners to apply for historical tax credits on the state or federal level. Those credits would offer an additional 25 percent match of all dollars spent on reconstruction efforts.
Phillips said the cost of the project far outweighed the benefits; moving forward with reconstruction was not a question.
“It’s going to be like a $1.8 million project,” Phillips said, “and when it all is said and done, the building will only be worth $800,000.”
Without the additional help of the credits, Phillips said the project would be difficult to undertake.
“This designation … is one of the things that makes it possible for me to continue with this,” Phillips said.
Phillips said his construction efforts would not only include his half of 14 W. Union St., but also the other half of the building, formerly Campus Sundry.
The Campus Sundry half of the building is owned by Garry Hunter, who owns the building on a trust, Phillips said.
Phillips added Hunter had no intention of rebuilding his half of the building himself.
“He could tear the building down and I would be left with … not much,” Phillips said.
As well as reconstructing his own building, Phillips will be overseeing construction on 16 W. Union St., which formerly housed Kismet.
“The building next door, 16, I do have a signed agreement to purchase it,” Phillips said.
Couladis, whose family has owned 18 and 22 W. Union — the Union Bar & Grille and Jackie O’s Public House — for many years, said though his project would cost under $1 million, he would still be applying for the tax credits.
To qualify for the tax credits, though, Couladis would have to overcome complications in reconstructing his property.
There are windows facing 16 W. Union St., and though the windows are no longer visible from the outside of the building, Couladis said they were uncovered when the building was a hotel in the 1880s.
“Over the years, the windows had been blocked up,” Couladis said.
Out of all of the windows, only two of them still retain their glass panes, Couladis said. Historical preservationists want to keep the glass throughout reconstruction and reopen the other windows for use, Couladis added.
“I doubt that the city code is going to let us have remodeling there and leave the windows as-is,” Couladis said.
Despite issues, Couladis said he hopes to start construction within a month, but worries the demolition of the other buildings could interfere with his own efforts.
Council members were unanimously in support of the ordinance that would declare 14, 16, 18 and 22 W. Union St. a local historic district.
“We want to help,” Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, said.
“And we need your help,” Phillips replied. “Otherwise it can’t be done.”
Council also moved to put to rest an issue created after Athens City Auditor Kathy Hecht gave 3- and 4-percent pay raises to nonunion employees in the auditor’s office.
The first of the two ordinances discussed at the city council meeting Monday night granted a 1-percent pay raise to all nonunion employees.
The ordinance passed with a vote of 5 to 2, with Councilwoman Jennifer Cochran, D-At Large, and Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, being the only dissenting voters.
Councilman Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, said the ordinance was “an attempt to bring some equity to a large group of nonunion employees in the city and to bring their pay scale up to that of employees in the auditor’s office.”
Though the ordinance will put the part of the debacle that had previously halted communications within the city building to rest, Risner said, “It will not address many other issues that nonunion employees have with the city.”
Not all in attendance agreed with the ordinance.
Former Athens City Councilman Edward Baum said that though council members would be equally doling out pay raises, they would not be taking control over the pay situation by passing the ordinance.
“Obviously it’s not working well because you’re having an ordinance that is dealing with a small part of a larger system,” Baum said. “I’m encouraging you to postpone this.”
Baum said council was acting in a reactionary manner.
“You don’t come in and say ‘The auditor did this, so I’m going to do this,’ ” Baum said.
Cochran voiced that she was also uncomfortable with the ordinance.
“It’s like putting on a Band-Aid on a bigger issue,” Cochran said.
However, Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl stressed that council should push the ordinance forward faster.
“If you’re hemorrhaging, do you wait for the right Band-Aid to stop the flow of blood?” Wiehl said.