- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2016

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Athens officials are discussing plans to build an amphitheater - or perhaps an enclosed arena instead - in the downtown area of the northeast Georgia city.

An open-air amphitheater is included in a master plan for downtown Athens.

Paul Cramer, executive director of The Classic Center downtown, is proposing that an enclosed arena be considered, The Athens Banner-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/297oNNI).

Cramer raised the idea of an enclosed arena during a recent meeting of The Classic Center Authority, the board that oversees the existing downtown convention and performance space, The newspaper reported. An enclosed arena would get more use than an open-air amphitheater, Cramer said.

The amphitheater is a prominent feature in the master plan, a document prepared as a guide to the development of the downtown area for the next two decades, the newspaper reported. The $30,000 plan, funded by the Athens Downtown Development Authority, was prepared by University of Georgia professor Jack Crowley, along with help from UGA students, and with considerable public input.

The master plan was formally accepted by Athens-Clarke County commissioners in 2014, and a commission committee has been working to implement aspects of the proposal.

In the plan, the amphitheater is located near The Classic Center, on county-owned property above Hickory Street in the eastern end of downtown Athens, facing the North Oconee River. The plan envisions the amphitheater constructed in stages, with an initial capacity of 1,500 to 2,500 people under covered seating, and hillside seating for an additional 2,500 people. Possible future expansions, based on use of the proposed amphitheater, could bring the seating capacity to as many as 10,000 people.

However, Cramer contends that an enclosed arena would get more use than an open-air amphitheater.

Cramer said Tuesday that, in his view, an arena would represent a better opportunity than an amphitheater for Athens to truly lay claim to its reputation as a center for music. And, Cramer said, an arena could host a wider variety of events than an amphitheater, bringing people and their dollars into town from communities beyond Athens for events such as cheerleading and gymnastics competitions.

Cramer said his view is that the amount of revenue generated would be “significantly higher with an arena than an outdoor amphitheater.”

Cramer said he recently took his ideas about an arena to Crowley and UGA students. The students developed some concepts for a fully enclosed space, with 6,000 and 8,000 seats, located somewhere between The Classic Center and the North Oconee River.

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Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com

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