The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 23, 2013

Festivals bring revenue, quality of life to Athens

By Budd McLaughlin
bud@athensnews-courier.com

ATHENS —

Fall is in the air and that means it's festival time here.

Over the last few weeks, we've been treated to some “Grease-y” fun while fiddlin' around telling stories.

And it hasn't escaped the attention of Mayor Ronnie Marks.

“This is such a busy time of the year,” he said. “It's a great time to bring people downtown and enjoy everything we have to offer.”

How busy?

Well, to go along with the second annual Grease Festival at the end of September, Athens hosted the Tennessee Valley Old Timers Fiddlers Convention three weeks ago and now we have the Storytellers Festival through the weekend.

The Fiddlers' Convention was in its 47th year and this year's event was the second-largest crowd, Marks said.

“It was so good,” he said. “I saw more people downtown than I can ever remember. We had some people visiting from Missouri who bragged on the downtown square.”

Last weekend, the third annual Ully Fest and the second annual Hispanic Festival at Swann Creek drew crowds with music, kids' exhibits and, of course, food. Still to come is the annual Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 9.

“This shows and helps us understand the diversity of our area,” Marks said.

It also reflects on the quality of life in Athens and Limestone County.

“The springtime and fall are busy in Athens,” he said. “We're working hard to make this a quality of life community.”

The events also are revenue producers for the city and the downtown businesses, along with the hotels.

And the money helps the city plan and provide infrastructure and recreational improvements.

“Our sales tax revenue is up, thanks to the new lodging tax,” Marks said. “I'd like to put more emphasis on the SportsPlex; Tuesday and Thursday nights you can't find a place to park.”

And then the all-important infrastructure — namely roads and bridges. Recently, the city received $1.6 million for 12 projects through ATRIP (Alabama Transportation and Rehabilitation Improvement Program).

“This is our first time to qualify for ATRIP,” Marks said. “This allows us to actually build and develop roads.”

He said the key to winning the grant — Limestone County and Elkmont also received money — was the one-cent sales tax increase the City Council approved last November and went into effect in January.

“If the sales tax increase hadn't passed, we would even have been able to apply (for the ATRIP money),” Marks said.

He also cited the success of the festivals to the dozens of volunteers and volunteer organizations, calling them the “lifeblood of the community.”

“Our charge is real clear to keep building a quality of life,” Marks said. “We'll never be a Huntsville or a Madison. We need to be the best we can be and we're doing well with that.”