Athens, Tenn., building permits show surge in recent years with $30 million tally in 2017

Bobby Edwards, left, of Lambcon Ready Mix, turns the flow of concrete loose to pour into the bucket of a front end loader driven by Richard Moore, of Wilson Construction Group. The men are working at Tennessee Wesleyan University's new Colloms Campus Center on College Street in Athens, Tenn., on Feb. 21, 2018.

ATHENS, Tenn. - Building permits issued over the past three years in Athens, Tenn. - the county seat in McMinn - show a tally of nearly $100 million in construction projects, topping off more than $200 million in construction over the past decade.

A new downtown grocery store, a major addition at the local university and continuing development at Interstate 75's Exit 49 helped make for a $30.4 million year in 2017, Athens Community Development Director Anthony Casteel said Wednesday.

In 2017, building came in the form of various types of development, mostly commercial and industrial, Casteel said.

By the numbers

Year - Permits - Total2017 - 377 - $30.4 million2016 - 322 - $23.2 million2015 - 337 - $43.1 million2014 - 356 - $14.3 million2013 - 350 - $29.1 million2012 - 384 - $11.9 million2011 - 345 - $6.5 million2010 - 392 - $5.5 million2009 - 495 - $9.8 million2008 - 495 - $19.6 million2007 - 490 - $13.1 millionSource: Athens Community Development

"We did see some movement on residential construction, as well. We had 15 new housing starts," he said.

The city got a new Taco Bell, Waffle House, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, the Colloms Campus Center at Tennessee Wesleyan University and a Food City grocery store downtown on the site of one of the city's older commercial centers. The Food City opened Nov. 1, bringing about 175 jobs to "The Friendly City."

Food City could become a valuable commercial development magnet, Casteel said.

"Every business has traffic patterns associated with the specific retail needs of the public," he said. "We always see certain types of shops follow these businesses around to try and capitalize on the traffic generated by the larger retailer.

"We expect this will be the same with Food City in the downtown," he said.

Over the last 10 years, growth in construction has been strongest since 2015, which had the high mark for the decade at $43.2 million in construction, records show. Denso Manufacturing, which makes automotive products, accounted for the lion's share of that figure with a $38 million expansion at its Athens facility.

The low mark for the decade came in 2010, when there was only $5.5 million in construction for the year.

"From 2008 to 2013, everybody just stopped building. There were small projects, but nobody was doing major construction at the time. They were doing the remodels," Casteel said.

But it's been a steady climb since the 2014 mark at $14.3 million, records show.

"The last three years, we have seen the effects of the economic downturn that occurred back in 2007-2008 start to come back to life," Casteel said. "It took a while to actually resonate here in Athens. The downturn mostly hit us in 2009-2010 and started an upturn in 2011 that has fluctuated some since then. However, development seems to be more stable the past three to four years."

Casteel said the future in Athens looks bright.

Construction in "2018 is off to a good start - we have a couple of industrial additions starting to take place and have word there will be more industrial expansion sometime this year," Casteel said, without naming all the names. There was construction machinery stirring up dust at the Thomas & Betts Corp. on Wednesday where some earthwork is under way for a project there.

Athens has often sought to capitalize on its isolated position between the more metropolitan areas of Chattanooga and Knoxville through teamwork among city agencies, he said.

"The Community Development Office, public works and fire department work hand in hand with Athens Utilities Board to always try to keep projects on course regardless of the type of development that is occurring," Casteel said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at