Think the flak surrounding the redevelopment of a dowdy Decatur shopping plaza into something shiny and Super Walmart-anchored has been dramatic? Check out the debate being waged over the proposed insertion of said mega-retailer into one of America’s favorite college towns and regular weekend destination for plenty of 20-something Atlantans: Athens.
The same developer behind the Suburban Plaza revamp, Selig Enterprises, envisions a mixed-use development of retail, restaurants, and apartments on the eastern edge of downtown; currently the land houses aging industrial buildings. Downtown Athens has become an indie shop mecca, and some think the fragile retail environment could be thrown off by such a project, particularly one that almost doubles the district's retails's space. There’s also arguments against the site plan, which turns its back on the North Oconee River Greenway.
That's not to say the plan doesn’t have its supporters. Even though Athens-Clarke County is faring better than the state as a whole when it comes to unemployment, it’s still sitting on a 40% poverty rate. Jobs, even low-paying ones, are needed. And while plenty of people would rather not see a Super Center quite so close to the UGA Arch, a spot to buy socks and bread would no doubt be appreciated. Neither the Decatur nor the Athens Walmarts are done deals so it’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen in each case. But with Walmart’s intention to infiltrate urban areas an open secret, don’t expect these kinds of heated debates to die down any time soon.