At Athens Varsity, answer to ‘What’ll ya have?’ is bulldozer

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Chili dogs, onion rings and frosted orange milkshakes could soon be in shorter supply for students at the University of Georgia.

The Athens Banner-Herald reports The Varsity has applied for permission to tear down its decades-old Athens location.

Athens-Clarke Commissioner Melissa Link said the Gordy family, which owns the restaurant, started buying up adjacent properties several years ago and sought rezoning. However, Link and others blocked the demolition of several houses, one of them owned by Annie Burney, an Athens educator who used it as a boarding house for Black female teachers when schools were segregated.

“There were very significant folks in Black history who owned and lived in that house. And I was like, there’s no way we can let this be torn down,” Link said.

Officials created an overlay district including The Varsity and surrounding houses owned by the Gordy family, limiting building heights, parking and the number of bathrooms per apartment unit, making student housing less likely. The family then transferred four houses to the Athens-Clarke Commission, which passed them to the Athens Land Trust for affordable housing.

“We knew all along that these property owners were adamant about selling the property for the highest commercial value they could,” Link said.

Local government has placed a hold on the restaurant’s demolition, but Link said she will lift the hold in several weeks.

The Varsity has operated in Athens since 1932. The Varsity’s current location was targeted repeatedly by desegregation demonstrations in 1963 and 1964, with the Ku Klux Klan at times holding counter-protests. Demonstrators were sometimes arrested in large numbers. City officials and the restaurant owners eventually conceded to integration.

No plans have been filed yet for what will replace the restaurant. The Varsity operates multiple Atlanta-area locations, including its flagship near Georgia Tech.

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