Editor’s Travels in Athens, Ga.

ATHENS, Ga.- My time in Athens was nothing short of amazing, even though my trip was only one day in length. Originally, I was scheduled to write one post about Athens and all of the wonderful new facilities, restaurants, and nightlife the blossoming town has to offer. Instead, because my time in Athens was so tremendously amazing, I am writing TWO!

I visited Athens, Ga., two weeks ago to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the Classic Center Arena attached to the Classic Center downtown. The new Classic Center Arena will not only act as a host to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, but will see several music artists, events, and sporting tournaments when it opens in Fall 2023.

The official crew behind the Classic Center Arena are all smiles as they post for a photo during the late April groundbreaking ceremony. Left to Right (Georgia Senator, Frank Ginn; State Representative, Houston Gaines; Mayor of Athens, Kelly Girtz; The Classic Center President/CEO, Paul Cramer; Chair of Classic Center Authority Board, Ryan Brinson; Athens-Clarke County Manager, Blaine Williams)

The arena will have an easy access to the public thanks to its location between the Foundry building downtown and its pre-designed concourse. Visitors will be able to walk to the arena after preparing for their event by shopping, dining, or checking out local attractions.

Additionally, the new arena will serve as one of the top Northeastern Georgia premier facilities with the capacity to hold up to 8500 people. The Classic Center Arena will also be able to transform from one sport to another in record timing. It will also be LEED-certified, which means the Classic Center will still be able to reach its goal of a reduced carbon footprint.

Fred Tull with J.E. Dunn says, “Once we heard Paul Cramer’s passion and vision for the project, we immediately jumped on. We also wanted to keep the goal of a reduced footprint, so I am proud to announce that this facility will have a sustainable design behind it.”

Officials of the arena also partnered with Perkins & Will, Smallwood, and Impact Construction Management LLC. to breathe life into the facility.

State Representative Houston Gaines and Georgia Senator Bill Cowsert speak about the project with a full audience in tow. 

Because most of the contractors are local, construction on the Classic Center’s Arena will bring over 600 jobs, 90,000 hotel nights, and over $30 million in economic impact in the next year alone. The Classic Center has also partnered with the University of Georgia, Athens-Clarke County Career Academy Athens Technical College, and local career academies to provide unique hands-on learning for students/employees in the area.

Phil Bettendorf of Elevate Athens says, “the main goal here above everything else is to elevate this project for the benefit of our community. We already have several workforce education projects and programs set up all for our residents to enjoy.”

Additionally, over $75 million in contracts have already been signed by local laborers set to work on the arena.

The $126-million-dollar-project will also see an increased minimum wage floor around 22 percent, matching MIT’s Living Wage Scale for 2022.

When the Classic Center Arena is finished, it will contain three basketball courts, four volleyball courts, space for 150 trade show booths, a banquet hall, seven load-in docks, an ice arena, and the capability to transform seating based on the contracted event.

Besides the wonderful project, it is easy to see why the residents of Athens and Classic Center officials are excited about the new arena.

Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz says during an unprepared “flyover” by local planes heading towards Atlanta 60 miles away that, “Athens shows an increase in 10 percent in visitor spending each year and has done so since 2016. Recently, visitor spending has opened the door for more retailers, shops, and restaurants bringing in 4100 jobs in the last year to our small town. COVID-19 reminded us all how important travel and tourism are in our industry and opened our eyes to the amazing branch that is local support.”

Fred Tull, Senior Project Manager of J.E. Dunn, speaks on behalf of the company during opening remarks.

Explore Georgia’s Deputy Commissioner Mark Jaronski also adds on to the statement and says, “local support is the largest workforce in the tourism industry. Because of this amazing feat, there has been an increased need when it comes to supplies, resources, power, and more to make Athens grow. We think and we know that this new arena will help us do just the job.”

Girtz also mentions by bringing such a large facility to downtown Athens opens up the possibility for more opportunities for local residents.

“Nearly 85 percent of touring shows will be able to play or perform here at our new arena. This in turn will help boost our downtown attractions and show visitors our way of doing things. I have never seen a board so courageous, tenacious, and supportive of an idea like this in all of my lifetime of work. The Classic Center Arena has an amazing family behind it already.”

General Manager of the new arena, Danny Bryant, also says that “over 65 events have already been scheduled out including hockey games, high school championships, collegiate tournaments, cheerleading competitions, gymnastics competitions, and more. We are looking to see an annual economic impact of $30 million alone next fall thanks to these events.”

However, one thing is for certain, everyone who took to the podium all mentioned one guy’s name—Paul Cramer.

Cramer served as the backbone for the development of the Classic Center Arena. It all started seven years ago when Cramer says he, “fell in love with the city and all of its wonderful possibilities. Since this has been in the works now for seven years, we have been able to put great thought into this project. Everything from hiring mainly local labor, to naming rights, and to seating has all been well-thought out with a lot of love and appreciation for the city.”

When the Classic Center Arena opens up next Fall, visitors will be able to see the dedication the staff behind its doors have for such a large project. I, for one, can not wait to come back and see an event!

Special thanks to the staff at Visit Athens, Explore Georgia, and the Lou Hammond Group for inviting me to witness awesome history be made in your town!