ATHENS — This town is experiencing a spurt of commercial and retail growth with construction projects either recently completed or underway.
The growth is a diverse mix of corporate and individual undertakings: new franchises, retirement and assisted living facilities, office space, industry/manufacturing, housing and other types of development.
"It's very positive (for the city) because it's going to create new capital investment, new jobs and helps the tax base and sales tax," said Brian J. Malone, president/CEO for Athens Economic Development Corp.
Malone observed the growth beginning late last year and continuing into this year.
Gary Crecelius, city director of planning and development, also noticed an upsurge in building permits issued the past couple of years.
"People who come to Athens really like our town," Crecelius said. "It's nice, friendly, pro business and has a positive attitude toward people who want to build in Athens."
The projects range widely in size, some of them small and some fairly large, Malone said.
Building permits show the largest projects are Arabella of Athens, a new retirement complex on Gibson Road, $4.9 million; expansion of Oak Wood Place assisted living, $2.1 million; construction of independent living quadplexes for Oak Wood Place, $1.6 million; a new building for Country Place Senior Living, $1.4 million; and an industrial building for Med-Logics, a manufacturer relocating from California in Athens, $1 million.
Malone said Ag Power, a John Deere franchise dealership, is building about a $2.5 million expansion on the loop that will serve a broader market and provide additional services.
"They may have been thought of as a local entity. With its new operation, it will be looking at attracting people out of Corsicana, Canton and down south to Palestine with new products and services it will have," Malone said.
Building permits were issued for at least three new restaurants: JD Tenders, $648,000; Pizza Hut, $450,000; and Mooyah Burger, $297,000.
Building permits also show construction of a Dollar General store, $850,000; a strip center named Legacy Plaza, $425,000; storage units for West Side Mini-Storage, $325,000; and a project for Schneider Electric, $750,000.
Remodeling permits were issued Wal-Mart, $616,000; and Brookshire's, $143,000.
Smaller projects include a dog boarding building for Dr. VanDer Cleff, $159,600; and additions to Brinson Ford Mercury, $100,000; and Future Matrix International, $79,290.
When all the projects are added together, they make a great impact on the community, Malone said.
"Seeing those people realizing that Athens is a good place to do business is very encouraging," Malone said.
The economic development corporation has worked with many of the developers in conjunction with city officials, providing incentives, but many other projects developed independently.
"We have been working with retailers, targeting and visiting with them to look at Athens in terms of coming here to locate," Malone said.
The economic development corporation provided funding for infrastructure improvements for Oak Wood Place and Arabella. It provided incentives for some other projects.
"We will continue looking at different type projects. When the (EDC) board and city council feel it merits our involvement, we definitely want to be there," Malone said.
A market analysis showed "unmet demand" and "outflow," Malone said, "so we know that there is more room for local sales for certain areas. I think some of those retailers (locating in Athens) are seeing that there is a capability to make a profit here or else they wouldn't be looking at investing the dollars they are."
Another factor, Malone said, is that Athens' retail economy is "really strong."
Companies weathered the economic downturn — a lot of them did good business planning — and now they are able to start taking advantage of opportunities, Malone said.
"Ever since 2008, we've had really good growth in our retail sales," Malone observed. He pointed out sales tax receipts every year are up 4 or 5 percent and appear to be approaching a 10 percent increase this year.
"When I looked at the comparisons, I was surprised at the amount of growth we've had," Malone said.
"I think that's something the retailers are looking at. They see positive growth here in Athens. We are very fortunate that we have a diverse economy and it continues to strengthen and grow," Malone said.
City government is active in economic development, very supportive and desirous of seeing new growth come into Athens and works with developers, Malone said.
"You put all those things together (and) there's a lot of good reasons (for the growth), but I think the main reason is people see an opportunity to make profit and to make sales," Malone said.
There also has been a rekindling of housing development, Malone observed.
Malone expects more development.
"We will continue to look for new development and growth, make our economy stronger and continue to diversify," he said. "Athens is a good place to be with all the positive things that we already have."