Daily photos by Jonathan Palmer|
Martina Madry makes a ticket for a patron of LuVici’s, which opened in downtown Athens the middle of this month.
Restaurants adds life, traffic to city center; parking is now issue
By Holly Hollman
ATHENS — A man who names his new restaurant after his mama puts more than a smidgen of thought into where he should locate that restaurant.
Jerry Sandlin, who opened LuVici’s three weeks ago, chose downtown Athens.
To pronounce that name correctly, sound it out like “Loo-V-See.”
Sandlin chose the square because it has “the best footprint of any little city I know.”
His mother, born in 1906 and named after a neighbor, taught her five boys and five girls to cook. The 92-seat restaurant, named in her honor, serves Southern dishes from her and her daughters’ recipes, such as fried chicken, meatloaf and pork chops.
“The city needs its downtown,” Sandlin said. “It needs the atmosphere and the history.”
Sandlin’s nephew bought U.G. White Hardware and offered him half of the building for the restaurant. Both men are involved in the Spirit of Athens, a committee devoted to revitalizing downtown.
In addition to LuVici’s, Giovanni’s and the Washington Street Diner have opened downtown, and a restaurant called The Oasis is planned for the downtown.
Sandlin sees more restaurants downtown as a good thing.
“No one eats the same thing every day,” he said.
“I don’t look at it as competition. I want people to have that typical argument, ‘What do you want to eat?’ ‘I don’t know. What do you want?’ And then I want the response to be ‘Let’s go downtown and choose something.’ ”
Yet, Sandlin and other business owners on the square do have a concern about downtown — the parking.
According to Municipal Court records, police issued
195 parking tickets in September.
Capt. Tracy Harrison said police write tickets for improper parking at ball games or parking in fire zones, but the downtown area is the only place that has time-limited parking.
“I would say a majority of those tickets would be for violations downtown,” Harrison said.
A City Council committee is working on downtown parking issues.
Business owners say problems include employees taking up two-hour spaces in front of businesses and inadequate sign-age to inform motorists about public parking lots.
Parking on the square in Athens is sometimes hard to find since new businesses moved to the area.
“A lot of downtown employees park in prime spots and move their cars every two hours to keep from getting a ticket,” Sandlin said.
“Restaurants have a higher volume of visits than retail and that cuts down on our customers’ ability to park.”
Sandlin said his employees park in the 10-hour spots off the square or in the parking lot across from the Kreme Delite.
The public can use that lot and others off the square, but Sandlin said people have a skewed view about walking.
“They’ll walk the entire length of a crowded Wal-Mart parking lot,” Sandlin said.
But the same shoppers will think that walking a block and a half to buy a cherry Sun-Drop at a pharmacy or a Radio Flyer at the hardware store, or to eat at new restaurants is too far to walk.
Public Works Director James Rich said more than 800 parking spaces are in the downtown area.
The first thing the parking committee will discuss is upgrading parking lots to make them safer and more accessible.
Mark White, owner of Tortillas Blanco, told city officials in August that better signage would help motorists find public lots.
“Now, you see people driving around the main square and giving up when they can’t find a spot,” he said.
Noon is the peak time with people looking for a place to eat lunch.
Jury week can also clog parking spaces.
“We looked at going to one-hour parking zones but that would hurt restaurants and retail stores,” Rich said.
“It’s hard to eat and shop in just an hour.”
Rich said the committee also will look at making a one-way route around the square like the one in Lawrenceburg, Tenn.
“I want to stress that we haven’t decided on that,” he said. “It’s just something the committee will look at.”
Sandlin said he would like the city to block off the square on Fridays and Saturdays at 5 p.m. to encourage more pedestrian traffic.
“That would only work if the retail shops stayed open, and that way people could eat and shop and walk around downtown,” he said.
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