Georgia Connector Magazine Fall 2011 : Page 21

“When the university sneezes, we get pneumonia,” says Eldridge. As it remains the city’s largest employer, UGA is the heart that pumps life through the circulatory system of Athens. Encompassing 700 acres, UGA’s main campus is comprised of 388 buildings in which over 30,000 students study, live, work and enrich their lives. And the big heart of Athens is only getting bigger. Work began in July of this year to renovate the former Naval Supply Corps building and 56-acre-grounds to become the new UGA Health Sciences Campus. The importance of this development is paramount, as it is to become the home for the aspiring physicians enrolled in the first class of the Medical College of Georgia/UGA Medical Partnership. The addition of a medical college to the university and its acquisition of the Navy School property is the community’s “most significant economic development that people of my generation have or will see in our lifetime,” asserts Eldridge. With the city’s leadership role in education and its thriving health care industry, the new medical program will have a foot in two major camps that drive the area’s economy. “It’s quite a unique opportunity,” the Chamber president continues, “and will work to strengthen the area’s already tight grasp on the two fields.” The deed was turned over in March and classes are scheduled to begin on the new campus in fall 2012. At the moment, the medical school classes are being held in the 152 year old historic structure that once housed the Athens Cotton and Wool Factory (later known as the Athens Factory). For many alumni, the building perched along the west bank of the North Oconee River may conjure up memories of the Old Mill Center, home of O’Malley’s, the raucous and fondly remembered student hangout that celebrated its heyday in the early 80s and 90s. Athens area residents are known for their resolute commitment to historical preservation, which is why the fire that gutted the beloved Georgia Theatre in 2009 was so heartbreaking. Built in 1889, the building has worn many hats since its inception as a YMCA. Among the plethora of incarnations, the edifice has been a Sears department store, a Masonic Temple, a Methodist Church and, of course, a movie theater. Today, the structure is best known as the concert hall first brought to life in 1977 and then again 1989. The venue’s stage has been graced with bands as iconic as the Ramones and acts as legendary as B.B. King. Its famous red curtains bared witness the rise to fame of local bands like R.E.M, The B-52s and Widespead Panic. Countless fans have stood in line to see budding Georgia-based musicians, as well acts from all over the country. The Theatre plays a vital role in the area’s music industry and history, which is why the community sprang into action within hours of hearing the news. Through the help of several benefit concerts, a documentary entitled Athens Burning , and donations from the community to cover the cost of rebuilding, the Georgia Theatre has risen like a phoenix from the ashes. Opening its doors to the public for the first time since the fire, owner Wilmont Greene booked a two-week line-up Fall 2011 Broad Street in Downtown Athens The Navy School on Prince Avenue 21

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