Yearly Archives: 2015

Downtown visitors will soon see more signs pop up along sidewalks and public parking areas as a decade-long citywide project comes to an end.

Nearly 100 green signs directing motorists and pedestrians to attractions such as Riverwalk Augusta, the Morris Museum of Art and the Au­gusta Convention Center, will be erected downtown by September, Au­gusta Convention and Visitors Bu­reau Destination Development Vice Presi­dent Jennifer Bowen told the Downtown Development Authority on Thursday.

Additional signs will indicate public parking areas. Those include the middle parking bays on Broad Street and a Richmond County Board of Education deck available to the public after hours and on weekends. Such signs already exist in front of the Reynolds Street parking deck.

An additional 100 signs will be installed in outlying areas to complete the 300-plus comprehensive way-finding sign system designed to welcome travelers at city limits and major gateways; establish the downtown and medical districts; and direct people to hospitals, colleges, points of interest and attractions.

“They’re like permanent billboards really advertising what there is to see and do in Augusta citywide
and certainly in downtown,” Bowen said.

The project has incorporated information kiosks for pedestrians. New two-sided kiosks will be put on several blocks off Broad Street. About 60 percent of the signs will be downtown, Bowen said.

The visitors bureau launched the program in 2005, with funds coming from federal grants, the private sector and the city. The phased project hit a roadblock three years later when the recession began, Bowen said.

Last July, the bureau received
$1.2 million from the Augusta Com­mission in recaptured special purpose local option sales tax funds to complete the system. The entire project is estimated to cost $1.5 million, Bowen said.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Jenna Martin/Staff Writer

The number of incoming personnel connected to the Army Cyber Command’s relocation to Fort Gordon’s Cyber Center of Excellence and other growing missions will be even greater than the Army originally thought.

The latest Army models estimate 4,700 soldiers, federal civilians and contractors will move to Fort Gordon by the end of fiscal year 2019, said J.C. Mathews, the installation’s public affairs officer. Original projections were between 3,700 and 4,000 new personnel.

“All our growth figures and projections start with a baseline year of 2012,” Mathews said. “So when we say ‘growth of 4,700,’ we mean growth that began in 2012 and continues through 2019.”

The updated figures were not connected to the Department of Defense’s announcement last week that nearly all of the nation’s installations will lose troops as the Army draws down its force from 490,000 to 450,000 in two years. Georgia’s Fort Benning and Fort Stewart will lose 3,400 and 950 soldiers, respectively.

Army restructuring numbers showed Fort Gordon adding 41 troops by the end of 2017. Mathews said that accounts for changes to units previously assigned to Fort Gordon through 2017 and does not account for the growth associated with Army Cyber Command.

Fort Gordon has already experienced an influx of new personnel. About 1,700 people arrived between 2012 and 2014, and 600 more are expected in 2015, according to data provided by Mathews.

The growth will peak in fiscal year 2016 when 1,140 are expected. Then, the buildup will taper between 2017 and 2019 to add the remaining 1,300 personnel.

The Army estimates about 7,240 family members including 2,344 school-aged children will relocate with the incoming personnel, Mathews said. Some of those spouses and kids have already moved into the Augusta area with the approximately 2,000 personnel who have arrived.

Growth through fiscal year 2019 is mostly connecting to buildup of the Cyber Protection Brigade, 116th Military Intelligence Brigade and units that support the National Security Agency and arrival of Army Cyber Command headquarters in 2017. The headquarters is currently located at Forts Belvoir and Meade in the Washington, D.C., area.

Maj. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, commander of Fort Gordon, said in a statement last week that the Army’s decision not to cut troops affirms changes at the installation that include more missions critical to national security.

“As a result, Fort Gordon has transformed from principally a training platform to a premier global power projection platform for the United States,” he said. “Now more than ever, Fort Gordon is where tradition meets the future.”

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Meg Mirshak/Staff Writer

The expansion of cancer research at Georgia Regents University is getting closer and the buildup of the cancer program overall is on pace to bring the GRU Cancer Center closer to a long-sought designation, the center’s director said.

Groundbreaking on the expansion of the current research building, which will include a three-story space above Laney-Walker Boulevard, is probably a month away, Director Samir N. Khleif said. It will actually have two primary pieces, he said. One will be a five-story extension out of the current building along Laney-Walker toward the research space at GRU and taking up almost half of the greenspace currently in front of the building, he said. That expansion will include a small conference center on the first floor, administrative space and then additional lab space above that, Khleif said.

That will enable GRU “to be able to hire more people, to recruit more people, to have the critical mass needed for the (National Cancer Institute Cancer Center) designation,” he said.

The other large piece is that three-story connection over Laney-Walker, beginning with the third floor and connecting the top three floors of the research building with the cancer clinic. That will be “an integrative space, where it is going to be the researchers and clinicians in one space to enhance the translational element of our research,” Khleif said.

The expansion will allow an additional 14-16 labs as well as the support services needed, he said. While the center has hired 35 additional clinicians and researchers in the last three years, it will need to add an additional 25 researchers, Khleif said.

The center’s buildup to the size and scope needed to apply for NCI designation has been deliberate, including expanding its core programs to attract more research and funding and to increase its connection with the community, he said. Funding has now reached almost $37 million, about 40 percent of the university’s total, and the clinical load has grown as well by 14 percent over three years, Khleif said.

“More importantly we started first-in-human, first-in-nation clinical trials and we are increasing those,” he said. “We’ve started now getting referrals from outside Georgia and South Carolina.”

The center has launched its Cancer Community Awareness & Access Research Education program to connect with underserved populations, has two outside clinics and has begun working with Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Khleif said.

While he is cautious about putting a timetable on when to see Georgia’s second NCI-designated center, “we are on track,” Khleif said. Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is the only other center in Georgia and the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina is that state’s only center. There are 68 centers overall, according to the NCI.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Tom Corwin/Staff Writer

Amid announced cuts throughout the Army, Fort Gordon thankfully will grow.

The recent Defense Department announcement to cut 40,000 troops from the Army by 2017 illustrated why this community should be thankful for having cyber-warfare operations at Fort Gordon.

Total troop loss at Georgia bases: 4,350.

Total troop loss in Augusta: Zero.

Call it the benefit of having some of the most in-demand war-fighting units in your back yard.

Fort Gordon, which will become home of the new U.S. Army Cyber Command by 2019, is one of the only military bases in the country that’s actually forecast to grow amid the reduction in force. In fact, the base will see a net gain of 40 positions “due to the addition of a few new units,” a fort spokeswoman said.

But that gain pales in comparison to the estimated 4,000 cyber, military intelligence and national security personnel who will move to Fort Gordon during the next five years to serve as front-line troops on the 21st-century battlefield – where wars are won by those who can penetrate the enemy’s information systems.

Worldwide, the Army’s reduction in force will draw troop levels down 450,000 soldiers and shed 17,000 civilian jobs by the end of 2017. The Army’s strength was at 556,000 soldiers when the current commander in chief took office.

All American soldiers are important and play a vital role in defending the nation, but clearly those relocating to Augusta as part the cyber-warfare buildup have the added benefit of job security well into the future.

Sadly, the same can’t be said about the region’s other military installations, including Fort Benning in Columbus, which is projected to lose 3,400 soldiers, and Fort Stewart in Hinesville, expected to lose 950. Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., is expected to shed 200 military and civilian jobs in the announced cuts.

It hurts to see other communities take their lumps in this round of force reductions, which is painfully short-sighted given the threat posed by global terrorism. But there’s no reason Augusta should mask its pride over having an asset such as Fort Gordon in its community.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Editorial

Nearly six months after setting up its Augusta service desk to assist the Army, IT company Unisys has continued to ramp up employment and awaits moving into a larger facility along Augusta’s Riverwalk.

The Pennsylvania-based firm started local operations mid-January with about 60 employees staffing a help desk at a 15,000-square-foot temporary location on Claussen Road. Unisys’ workforce in Augusta has since grown to 220 employees, and the company has added two commercial clients in addition to serving the Army, said Christine Jimenez, Unisys lead service-delivery executive, who is overseeing the Augusta center.

“Our plan is to continue hiring through the end of the year because once we get into Fort Discovery, we’ll be starting to look at supporting some of our commercial clients out of that facility, as well,” Jimenez said. “It will be at a minimum of another probably 30 to 50 people by the end of the year.”

After signing a lease in March to occupy the old Fort Discovery space in the Port Royal building at 1 Seventh St., Unisys has been on the fast track to move into the riverfront space. Jimenez said the target move-in date falls in mid- or late September.

Unisys, which could employ as many as 700 workers by 2019, also remains on track with hiring projections.

The company has expected to employ 250 workers, ranging from entry-level agents to site operations managers and service desk trainers, by the end of 2015.

“We’re really happy,” Jimenez said. “We’ve found some really great, smart, well-educated and motivated folks that are working for us … We’ve had some folks that were agents that have now moved on to be team leaders or onto a level 2 agent.”

To meet the September deadline, construction crews have been working daily since April to retrofit the downtown facility.

Escalators at the back of the building has been removed, conference rooms and offices have been added and mold remediation is ongoing. Despite the changes, the 35-foot “Gravichron” and lobby escalators will remain, said Jimenez.

“They have made significant progress,” she said “There’s walls up and offices are framed out.”

Changes to the building’s facade are visible. While exterior work is temporarily halted pending Augusta Historic Preservation Commission approval, sections of brick and two rear staircases leading to the Riverwalk have been torn down, and a series of new windows are proposed.

About 50,000 square feet of the two-level building will remain for a Richmond County Sheriff’s Office substation and additional office and restaurant tenants.

Jordan Trotter Commercial Partner Dennis Trotter said his firm continues to work with several prospects interested in the space but could not release names. He said restaurants will be located on the first floor to offer views of the Riverwalk and Savannah River.

“We’re spending several million dollars on the lobby, common space and pedestrian areas to really enhance the positioning of the building on the Riverwalk, as well,” Trotter said, “make it more of a gathering place as much of an office building.”

However, Trotter said his immediate focus is construction.

“Keeping (Unisys) on track and making sure they move on time is really the priority right now,” he said.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Jenna Martin/Staff Writer

The chief of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command praised Augusta’s growing cyber sector and its initiative to support a military and civilian defense speciality that’s increasingly important to national security.

“If you look at what is resident in this area, you have a strong educational end. You have a very talented workforce, both civil and on the government side. You’ve got government centers of excellence in cyber, signal and intelligence,” said Adm. Michael Rogers.

Rogers, NSA director and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, was the keynote speaker Thursday at a privately sponsored cyber defense conference at the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center.

During his second visit to the city in eight months, he addressed about 100 participants from the military, government agencies, commercial companies and defense contractors. Afterward, he visited Georgia Regents University where high school students were completing a week-long summer camp focused on cyber security.

Fort Gordon, the commercial sector and government groups in Augusta are working together to strengthen education, training and job opportunities in cyber security and defense, Rogers said.

“You’ve got a local set of political leaders who are interested in engendering that kind of cooperation,” he said. “That is a very powerful combination, one that I’ll tell you as the guy that travels literally around the world, you don’t always see in a lot of places.”

Rogers said visiting Augusta allows him to talk to the private sector about cyber tactics. The U.S. depends on expertise from commercial cyber companies to enhance its knowledge and practices in a rapidly evolving cyber industry, he said.

The public and private sectors cannot work independently to defend the nation from foreign cyber breaches, he said.

“To make this work, and one of the reasons why I’m down in Augusta today, is in the end this is all about the power of partnerships,” Rogers said.

S.C. Supreme Court upholds validity of ordinance allowing North Augusta to finance the new GreenJackets stadium

The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the validity of a North Augusta ordinance being used to finance a new stadium development for the Augusta GreenJackets.

The court determined, however, that North Augusta officials violated open-meetings laws by failing to announce the specific purpose of closed-door meetings they held to discuss the development.

The 5-0 ruling in effect ends 18 months of litigation challenging North Augusta’s $183 million Project Jackson near the Hammond’s Ferry neighborhood with a baseball park overlooking the Savannah River, a hotel, conference center, and retail, living and office space.

“Project Jackson can move forward and will move forward,” said Belton Zeigler, a Columbia attorney who represented North Augusta during the litigation. “The obstacles are cleared out of the way.”

Jeff Eiseman, president of the GreenJackets and team owner Agon Sports and Entertainment, said the ruling allows the team to open its 2017 season in the North Augusta stadium. The stadium was planned for the 2015 season when the city announced plans in late 2012.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for a while,” Eiseman said. “We have bigger days ahead of us. There’s still a lot more to do.”

North Augusta Administrator Todd Glover said work begins to finalize contracts with groups that will occupy the development but were reluctant to sign agreements with litigation pending. Construction groundbreaking isn’t scheduled but the stadium is on track for the 2017 season, he said.

North Augusta homeowner Stephen Donohue sued the city in December 2013, claiming the development area did not have blighted property required to amend a Tax Increment Financing District created in 1996. He also said the North Augusta City Council violated the Freedom of Information Act by holding executive sessions without disclosing to taxpayers that council members were discussing Project Jackson.

“The court said the city did exactly what the statute required to amend the TIF plan,” Zeigler said. “There were no defects in that process at all.”

The Supreme Court’s opinion affirmed the August 2014 ruling by South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Ernest Kinard on the TIF District but reversed his decision that North Augusta complied with FOIA. Donohue appealed Kinard’s ruling, and the Supreme Court agreed to bypass the Court of Appeals to hear the case May 5.

In an e-mail, Donohue applauded the court’s decision to advance government transparency regarding closed door meetings but said upholding the TIF district allows Project Jackson to disturb the riverfront and city’s quality-of-life.

“While we were disappointed in the decision on TIF and thought it merited a more thorough analysis than a few pages, suffice it to say that many people and organizations are committed to fighting this ill-conceived idea of a stadium in the midst of one of the most beautiful ecological areas in the CSRA,” he said. “This transfer of taxes to a corporate developer constitutes crony capitalism at its worst which will significantly degrade the quality of life of all those who chose to invest their hard-earned money in riverside neighborhoods.”

In 11 executive sessions challenged by Donohue, the city council announced they were entering to discuss a “contractual matter,” according to the opinion. Contractual matters are defined as a “specific purpose” that municipalities can use to hold closed meetings but the statue requires more description when the subject involves location, expansion or services for businesses or industries that will serve the public, the opinion says.

Zeigler said North Augusta followed the FOIA as the city and some other municipalities interpret the law. The court’s opinion called for more specific descriptions that could change how governments conduct business, although it’s not clear how much disclosure must be given, he said.

“FOIA is always a balance between abilities of governments to operate with a certain amount of privacy for specific areas and transparency for the public. The court is saying they want to push that balance more toward transparency,” he said.

Glover said North Augusta conducted business similar to other municipalities. The city has tried to be more specific about its closed meetings since the Supreme Court expressed concern during the May 5 hearing.

“It was pretty evident the day of our Supreme Court case the justices didn’t like how we were going into executive session,” he said.

The FOIA violation does not invalidate the funding ordinance because the executive sessions applied to contract negotiations with Augusta GreenJackets owners and project developers, Zeigler said.

The Supreme Court required North Augusta to pay attorney fees and costs for the portion of litigation relating to FOIA violations only.

Zeigler said the amount has not been determined but the case centered more on the TIF district than FOIA.

North Augusta has spent about $250,000 on legal fees for the case, Glover said. Additionally, construction costs increased during the lengthy litigation likely costing the city more to complete the project, he said.

The GreenJackets have not signed a contract with North Augusta, Eiseman said. Still, the team is committed to the project and eager to play in the riverfront stadium, he said.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Meg Mirshak/Staff Writer

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is set for release Dec. 18. The theater company is trying to get its new 14-screen movieplex on River Watch Parkway open by then, said chairman and CEO Bill Stembler.

Steel and concrete block walls are still being erected on the site near Costco and Cabela’s in west Augusta. Rainy weather has made the construction slow going, Stembler said.

“We’re working around the clock. We had so much bad weather in March and April, it was hard to get going. You can see how muddy it is now,” said Bo Chambliss, the president of the St. Simons Island, Ga.-based company. “We’re trying to make up time right now.”

Chambliss and Stembler were on the site Thursday to inspect the construction. More than 100 workers are building the exterior. The number working there will expand once plumbers and electrical workers arrive.

The new theater will be the first in the company where every seat is a full electric recliner. It is also adopting the concept of dinner and a movie in one location: A 4,000-square-foot restaurant inside the theater will offer an American bistro menu and a full-service bar.

Hiring of the theater’s staff should begin in November.

The theater will not have a box office. Tickets will be purchased online or through a kiosk in the lobby. Chambliss said the company is changing its Web site to allow people to buy tickets online, to be followed by a smartphone app that allows online ticket purchases separate from Fandango.

Chambliss said he expects the app to be ready by the time the new Augusta theater is open.

The big wall is up – the four-story one that will back the 80-foot-wide, 40-foot-high Georgia Theatre Xtreme (GTX) screen, the company’s premium digital competitor to IMAX. It will also use Dolby Atmos, a recently developed “moving audio” technology that Stembler said the executives saw in action at a convention two years ago.

Georgia Theatre Co. owns and operates 30 theaters across Florida, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia, including Evans Stadium Cinemas 14 and Masters Value Cinemas 7.

Chambliss said the company has retrofitted three other theaters to have GTX. There are liquor licenses for four theaters, he said, and Augusta will be another to serve beer and wine to moviegoers.

As for the Evans theater, Chambliss said, “we’ve talked about adding a GTX there, but if we do that, it will be a few years. We want to see how this one goes, what the impact is.”

The Evans location might be in line to get a renovated lobby and concession area, he said.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Tim Rausch/Business Editor

Capitalizing on the presence of the U.S. Army Cyber Command at nearby Fort Gordon, Georgia Regents University (GRU) is launching a cyber institute to expand research opportunities and curriculum offerings in the growing field.

While GRU already has established a cybersecurity curriculum, the new institute will let the university broaden the program across the campus, said Gretchen Caughman, the Augusta, Ga., school’s executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.

“One of the important purposes of the institute is that it’s multi-disciplinary, not focused on a single college,” she said.

Joanne Sexton, the program’s director, said being able to offer cyber instruction to students in such varied disciplines as information technology and health care is important because cybersecurity has become omnipresent in today’s world.

“Cybersecurity affects everyone,” she said. “If you’re connected to the Internet, cybersecurity is important to you.”

Cybersecurity programs will be offered by GRU’s Hull College of Business, the College of Allied Health Sciences and the Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

While cybersecurity instruction will be offered across the campus, the institute will be housed at a central facility, a building that currently is under design.

Caughman said the initial capital investment is expected to be roughly $2.5 million.

Georgia Regents University was formed two years ago by the consolidation of Augusta State University and the Medical College of Georgia.

Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle
Author: Dave Williams