Former chicken plant in Athens ready for demolition

ATHENS, Ala. -- After sitting empty for nearly 10 years, the former Pilgrim's Pride plant in Athens is about to be torn down. Mayor Ronnie Marks says it won't be cheap tearing the old place down, but he has big plans for the site.

"They picked me up and said, 'Get in the car and ride with us'," Marks said.

Marks didn't need a reminder about what an eyesore the old chicken plant on Pryor Street had become.

"I'd ask them every year to write it off to the city of Athens," Marks said. "Then they'd have a good laugh and say, we want several million dollars for it."

Gone are the days of a 600 strong workforce and its millions in tax revenue. Those who drive or run by it try to look past the peeling paint and rust.

"I've played good cop, bad cop, I've hung up the phone all through the process. Fortunately, it worked out," Marks said.

Marks and the city eventually struck a deal to buy the old plant from Pilgrim's Pride and scrap it.

"They`ll grind it all the way down to the asphalt," Marks said. "The contract says we want it where it`s clean, flat, on the ground and we can sow it and mow it."

Between writing checks for buying the old chicken plant and the teardown, it's easily going to cost the city of Athens over a million dollars. But rather than having buyer's remorse about it, mayor Marks says he's more optimistic about what this property could be.

"High-end apartments, loft apartments, looking out over a park," Marks said.

For now, that's wishful thinking. But Marks says there's nothing wrong with wishing when you have 32 acres to play with.

"The challenge for me is, how do you grow your community, how do you meet that challenge and keep that quality of life?" Marks said.

And new life means tearing down the old.

This week, a group is inspecting the asbestos in the plant. Marks says he hopes the demolition can start in May and be done by Christmas.