published Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Athens, Ala., city leaders target blight in downtown area

ATHENS, Ala. — City leaders in Athens are looking for ways to attack blight in the downtown area and are leaning on owners of the buildings to show they're making progress.

The city has been trying to eliminate dilapidated structures by forcing owners to fix them or removing the problem and billing the owners, The Decatur Daily reports.

Mayor Ronnie Marks said there is sometimes a fine line between historic and dilapidated, but it's important the owners of the building shows signs action is being taken.

"We have to be fair," Marks said. "If we don't require this property owner to make improvements, we can't go across town and force another to improve their property."

Among the buildings on a list of dilapidated and unsafe structures tracked by the public works department are five empty stores owned by Laurie McGuire.

McGuire bought the buildings about five years ago, during the economic downturn. She used a $2,000 grant from the Spirit of Athens to fund storefront improvements but hasn't had the funds to continue the work until she recently got a loan.

Marks said he understands the issue of financing, but his patience is getting short.

"Something needs to be done," Marks said. "With everything we've done in recent years, we need to see some movement."

McGuire said she plans to use one of her buildings as her own office and hopes to rent out one as a diner or deli, another as an office and the others as storefronts. She said the city has been helpful and has given her suggestions on getting the work going.

Rebekah Davis with the Limestone County Archives said the vacant shops were built between 1911 and 1920 and are part of the Athens Courthouse Commercial Historic District, which joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

Trisha Black, executive director of the Spirit of Athens, said the buildings' historic significance makes them important to save.

"We always love to have more retail possibilities move in," Black said. "That brings people downtown and keeps it active and vibrant."

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