Author Archives: Augusta Tomorrow

Davidson Fine Arts and CT Walker have been named National Magnet Schools of Excellence by the Magnet Schools of America, the national association for magnet and theme-based schools.

Magnet School of Excellence Awards are only given to a select group of magnet schools. Schools of Excellence are eligible to receive monetary awards and are eligible to be named the nation’s top Elementary, Secondary, or New & Emerging Magnet School. One of the Schools of Excellence will also be selected to win $5,000 and the Dr. Ronald P. Simpson Distinguished Merit Award, which is considered the most prestigious magnet school award in the nation.

To receive a national merit award, members of Magnet Schools of America must submit a detailed application that is scored by a panel of educators. These schools are judged and scored on their demonstrated ability to raise student academic achievement, promote racial and socioeconomic diversity, provide integrated curricula and instruction, and create strong family and community partnerships that enhance the school’s magnet theme.

Source: Augusta CEO

Backers of a business incubator in downtown Augusta say the project could once again make the historic Woolworth Building the “heart of commerce” in the central business district.

And, in the process, make Augusta more hip among millennial entrepreneurs.

The project at the corner of Eighth and Broad streets, known as the Augusta Innovation Zone, is being touted as a co-working space where young entrepreneurs can rent everything from a single desk all the way up to a 3,000-square-foot office suite.

Envisioned as a smaller version of the Atlanta Tech Village, the proposed startup accelerator would occupy all 43,000 square feet of the Woolworth Building on the southwest corner of the intersection, plus parts of the Johnson Building at the southeast corner.

“This will return the historical significance back to Eighth and Broad – and we’re really excited about it,” said Tommy Wofford, co-founder and CEO of the Augusta-based tech company MealViewer and one of the project’s six investors.

The other Augusta Innovation Zone partners include former Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Unisys Vice President Tom Patterson, Meybohm Vice President John Cates and Augusta restaurateur George Claussen and his sister Virginia, a marketing and brand-management executive for Copenhaver’s consulting firm and weekday radio show.

Wofford and Cates said at an information session Thursday that the group hopes to open the facility by the time the state’s $50 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center at the Augusta Uni­versity Riverfront Campus is completed in the middle of next year.

Cates said space will be sold in membership tiers, with the Woolworth Building’s 17,000-square-foot ground floor housing the least-expensive spaces, including “hot desks” where budding entrepreneurs get a temporary desk with access to shared printers, copiers and a receptionist.

The mid-level tier would consist of dedicated desks with secure storage compartments, while the top membership package would include actual office space fabricated out of used 20- to 40-foot shipping containers capable of housing three to six employees.

Startup companies that grow beyond that can seek larger spaces on the 13,000-square-foot second floor.

The idea is for startup companies to “graduate up,” Cates said.

“If you look at Atlanta Tech Village, the top floor has well-established companies that started on the first floor,” he said.

Rents have not been finalized, but the investors say they plan to keep costs low by operating the incubator as a nonprofit entity.

Above the second-floor offices are plans for a rooftop bar that would be managed by Claussen, co-owner of the Southbound Smokehouse barbecue restaurant and the Friends with Benefits Fund event promotion organization. The 12,000-square-foot entertainment area would feature a small stage area and space where restaurant startups could test menu concepts.

For startup founders and employees who want to live close to the space, the second floor of the Johnson Building – the first floor already is partly occupied with commercial tenants – will be developed into about 12 to 15 apartments.

“Millennials want ‘live, work and play,’” Wofford said. “What that really means is not all three things – it’s all things at once. They want to live where they work, work where they live and they want all of it to be fun. So this helps create that.”

The Johnson Building, owned by Dallas Hooks of Evans-based Journey Real Estate Investments, is more than a decade older than the Woolworth Building but is in better condition. The former Woolworth store was constructed in 1939 but has sat unused since it closed in 1991 and is in need of a full renovation. It was bought in 2015 by local developer and hotelier T.R. Reddy.

Cates said the Augusta Innovation Zone partners have agreements with both building owners to use the space. The group expects the entire project to cost in the neighborhood of $5 million.

The price will be worth it, however, if the incubator succeeds in helping Augusta become better known for innovation.

“I know this may all seem like pie in the sky, but this works,” Cates said during Thursday’s presentation. “It’s working all over the country and there’s absolutely no reason – with Fort Gordon and with all the great people like you here – why it couldn’t work in Augusta.”

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Damon Cline/Business Editor

Matt and Jamie McDowell were looking to build their dream home somewhere that gave their three young children and home-based business plenty of room to grow.

And they found it in the form of a 3,700-square-foot Southern traditional on a 3-acre lot in Evans off Halali Farm Road. Their purchase was one of the more than 10,000 local sales that helped make 2016 a banner year for single-family home sales in the Augusta-Aiken area.

“We’ve had several good years, but this has been the best year so far in 10 years,” said Andrea Bowles, the president of the Greater Augusta Association of Realtors, whose members broker the vast majority of sales in Richmond and Columbia counties and the western half of Aiken County.

The association reported 8,084 single-family home sales in 2016. The last year so many homes were sold in the area was during the height of the real estate bubble in 2006, when the association recorded 7,657 sales.

The Aiken Board of Realtors, which covers most of Aiken County and the city of Aiken, reported 2,149 sales in 2016, a 7.3 percent increase from the previous year and the best sales year since the recession.

“We had a great 2016 and our numbers in 2017 are already looking good,” Association Executive Kristyne Shelton said.

Home sales aren’t booming just in the Augusta area. Nationally, more than 5.45 million homes were sold last year, surpassing the previous year and showing the best numbers since 2006, when 6.48 million homes were sold.

Sales nationwide plunged after the bubble burst in 2008, though not as precipitously in the Augusta-Aiken area compared to red-hot real estate markets such as Miami, Las Vegas and Atlanta, where loose lending standards caused greater distortions in the market. Many of those areas are now rebounding more robustly than slow-and-steady midsized markets such as Augusta.

“We have the benefit of being a solid, steady, strong market with a very diverse economy,” said Bowles, an agent with Blanchard & Calhoun. “We have some pockets of the country that are outperforming us, but we’re certainly more steady.”

Still, several post-recession trends are keeping the real estate sales market in check. One is that homeowners aren’t selling as often as they used to; the average length of ownership is around 10 years, up from six years a decade ago. A contributing factor is that about one in every five people who bought during the peak of the housing boom are still underwater on their home, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Another challenge is that rising home prices and interest rates make renting more attractive than buying, especially among millennials, a generation that is taking to home ownership later in life than their parents and grandparents. People who own homes as investment properties have little incentive to put them up for sale because the rental market is so strong.

McDowell’s home-based business, Southern Homes and Rentals, manages about 150 rental homes in the Augusta area. The 34-year-old Columbia County native said many renters are newcomers taking jobs at Fort Gordon, Savannah River Site and Plant Vogtle. While some rent for a couple years while they get to know the community, others only plan to be in the area three or four years – not long enough to buy a home, but too long to stay in an apartment.

“Some of the apartment rents are insane,” McDowell said. “There are some two-bedroom units going for $1,100 a month. For that we can get somebody into a townhome, which is better than apartment living.”

Retirees from the Northeast and West Coast account for a large portion of Aiken’s housing market. That influx slowed for several years as retirees in those areas had difficulty selling their homes.

After years of flatlining, home prices in the Augusta area are starting to creep up; the average sale price last year was $170,742, a 14 percent increase from 2009, when the market bottomed out and the average sales price fell to $149,691.

Irvine, Calif.-based ATTOM Data Solutions notes in its 2017 Rental Affordability Report that Augusta-Aiken is among the 66 percent of U.S. markets where it’s cheaper to buy than rent. According to Seattle-based Zillow, interest rates would have to rise past 7 percent to make renting a better deal.

Last year nearly one in every four homes sold in metro Augusta was new construction. But home building is starting to slow locally and nationally amid rising regulatory and labor costs.

“Given current population and economic growth trends, housing starts should be in the range of 1.5 million to 1.6 million completions and not stuck at recessionary levels,” National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun says in a report. “More needs to be done to address the regulatory and cost burdens preventing builders from ramping up production.”

In the metro Augusta area, single-family building permits in 2016 were down 6.5 percent from the previous year and 33 percent from a decade ago. The local builders association attributes most of the slowdown to cost pressures, but McDowell, who is in the real estate business, also notes that local developers went overboard on speculative home construction after the announcement that Army Cyber Command would relocate to Fort Gordon.

“Builders started banging out specs as fast as they could,” McDowell said. “What you’re seeing now is builders pumping the brakes because we’ve got so much inventory.”

McDowell said his company has worked with builders to fill some of their new homes with renters while the market rebalances.

Rising interest rates might also be keeping people put. Those with mortgages in the mid-3 percent rage might be hesitant to get back into the market now that rates have risen above 4 percent for a 30-year fixed.

Though rates are on the rise, many consumers might not appreciate just how low they are from a historical context, said Tom Bird, the president of State Bank Mortgage, the Augusta-based home loan division of Atlanta-based State Bank & Trust.

“I’ve been in this business for 38 years, so it’s still what I consider uber-low,” Bird said.

His operation saw an 8 percent increase in mortgage origination systemwide in 2016. In metro Augusta, where Fort Gordon is increasing its cybersecurity operations, a large percentage of mortgages are VA loans, which offer 100 percent financing. Nationally, 18 percent of buyers are veterans and 2 percent are active-duty service members.

The typical loan in the Augusta area falls in the $200,000-$300,000 range, but Bird said he has noticed activity picking up in the $500,000 and up category, which falls into the non-conforming “jumbo” mortgage, which is what the McDowells had to take out to buy their Halali Farm Road home.

Bird acknowledged post-recession banking regulations have added extra layers to the loan-qualifying process, though consumers with good credit and proof of a steady income can still get easily approved.

“It’s not harder to get qualified now – it’s just more complicated,” he said.

Nationally, first-time buyers made up 35 percent of all buyers in 2016. The typical buyer was a 44-year-old whose median household income was $88,500. The typical home purchase was a 1,900-square-foot three-bedroom, two-bathroom built in 1991 with a median price of $227,700.

That price is about 33 percent higher than the average metro Augusta home.

“When people come from out of the area and interview for jobs, 99 percent of the time they’re pleasantly surprised for what they can get for their dollar,” Bowles said.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Damon Cline/Business Editor

Fort Gordon welcomed Congressman Rick Allen on Wednesday for an up-close look at the Army’s cyber operations as cyber command continues to move into its new Augusta headquarters.

“Every time I am out here I just say, ‘Wow!’ I don’t mind telling you, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. We have a lot going on out here,” said the Republican from Augusta.

He called cyber battlefields the new frontier in warfare and said the mission at Fort Gordon and in Augusta is very important. Allen spent about three hours with cyber warfare experts learning detailed information about their missions. He said briefings about the current operations, future operations, and connections to the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center were intensive and largely classified.

“We can be the Silicon Valley of the East Coast. We have that opportunity and we have that on an education level. We can set the stage for this part of the country as far as education,” Allen said.

The training center is planned to be a “cyber range” built by Georgia Technology Authority and operated by Augusta University at its Riverfront Campus downtown. The facility will be a training and education partnership between academia, military and private entities. Gov. Nathan Deal recently signed an amended budget that directed $50 million to the project which is expected to be complete in mid-2018.

Before a shovelful of dirt is turned on the project, the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center is attracting industry attention to Augusta and is sparking talk of future collaborations that will transcend traditional boundaries and lead to new and innovative training opportunities, officials said.

Much of that will look to take full advantage of the U.S. Army Cyber Command moving to Fort Gordon in the near future and the unique training opportunities and collaboration opportunities it will afford.

Once the $50 million Georgia Cyber project was announced as part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s amended 2017 budget in January, Walter Sprouse of Augusta Economic Development Authority spread the word about it through the nationwide network of consultants that help companies relocate and expand.

“And the phone started ringing,” he said. Many of the companies are involved in cyber or information technology or related fields, Sprouse said.

“I think these companies are recognizing, if you are in cyber or IT, you’ve got to be here,” he said. “So we’re doing our best to accommodate them.”

Some have even toured the Augusta University Cyber Institute to see what is already here ahead of what will be much greater capabilities and opportunities in the future, said institute director Joanne Sexton.

The new center will have 60,000 to 70,000 square feet for incubator space, and some companies are already inquiring about that, AU President Brooks Keel said. And once the center has decided on a footprint and the land it will need, the rest will be deeded back to the University System of Georgia for AU to begin to plan what else, from academic to private industry, will go on that 17 acres, Keel said. One key aspect of the new center will be its responsibility for providing cyber-training to 85 state agencies, which would essentially create a state-supported mission in Augusta, Keel said.

“There’s not a single agency in the country anymore that doesn’t have some aspect of cyber associated with it,” he said.

Having the large-scale cyber range that can provide real-life training scenarios to face cyber attacks in a safe environment could allow the center to offer training to large “Fortune 500” companies as well as military partners, Keel said.

The current Cyber Institute is already working with military and private industry to get an idea of what their workforce needs are, and that will expand in the new center, Sexton said.

“Part of the concept of this center is we are bringing those parties together,” she said. “And we believe that by doing that we are going to create a resource that helps solve the problem and also really helps industry, helps the government and from an academic standpoint puts in a position where we’re supporting both government and companies with students that are ready to go to work.”

The center is under a “very, very tight timeline” to hire new staff and faculty to be ready when the center opens, Sexton said, which is 18 months after the groundbreaking.

Those cyber efforts will get an additional boost when the 1,200 Army and civilian personnel move to the new Cyber Command headquarters under construction at Fort Gordon, said Col. Todd Turner, garrison commander. That will set up a unique proximity between those in training and those actually working in the field, and the potential for cross-talk, he said.

“What you are learning in the operational force, you can take it right back down to the platform and an instructor can deliver that to students right across the street,” Turner said. “We find a problem over in the operational force, industry and academia over here (at Georgia Cyber) are able to solve it, it feeds right back into our platform, into our students and into our operational force. So we really see great opportunity for synergy here between this facility and Fort Gordon.”

Once Cyber Command moves, the contractors and private industry that help support it are likely to follow, said Scott Poag, project manager for Augusta Economic Development Authority.

“Because the customer is here, the benefit for the companies is the customer is going to be able to give them real-time feedback on, ‘this is what our gaps are,’ so that gives them the edge on that research and development component to help fill those gaps,” he said.

Not only will those companies come but “then you can have additional companies associated with those companies and then the ripple effect extends well beyond this 17 acres” on the Savannah River, Keel said. “That’s the impact we will have on Augusta. Imagine all of the retail, just general retail in (downtown Augusta) that is going to be needed to support employees that are working and living on this 17 acres. The ripple impact is going to be huge for the city.”

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

With the stroke of a pen, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday authorized $50 million for the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center on the banks of the Savannah River and set off a swirl of talk about collaboration that will bring together government, academia, industry and the military, officials said.

Deal signed the amended fiscal year 2017 state budget, which also includes a 20 percent raise for 3,300 state law enforcement personnel as rows of officers from the Georgia State Patrol, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and and Motor Carrier Compliance Division stood behind him. Since the raise was announced, the number of applicants to the patrol’s trooper school has doubled, the governor said.

“It is having a very positive effect,” Deal said.

The signing took place on Augusta University’s Riverfront Campus, the site of the former Golf and Gardens property, where the center will be built. The University System of Georgia Board of Regents voted this week to turn the nearly 17 acres over to the Georgia Technology Authority, which is building the center, to accelerate planning.

Ground for the cyber center will be broken soon, and Deal said he wants the new center open in 18 months, almost unheard of for a state project. The funding was structured to make that happen as quickly as possible.

“We’re funding the cyber academy with cash, rather than going through the bond process,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have enough revenue to be able to do that. That gives us a jump-start on it.”

The Georgia Technology Authority has far less bureaucracy to go through than other parts of state government to plan and execute the project, AU President Brooks Keel said.

“(It) gives them the ability to short-circuit a lot of that red tape in a very significant way,” he said. “That’s why the GTA was the perfect place for it. They have flexibility that most state agencies don’t have and a lot more flexibility than the University System of Georgia.”

University will run the day-to-day operations of the center through an agreement with the authority, and the two groups already are working to plan and design the center, Keel said.

The project is accelerated to coincide with efforts to build a new headquarters with the Army Cyber Command, the first part of which will open in May 2018, and with investments from the National Security Agency, Deal said.

“They are going to be great collaborators with us. I believe in what our projects are going to do because it benefits them if they have the trained people that are available for their employment as well,” he said.

Because cybersecurity is such an evolving field and the need for trained personnel is so great, no one entity can do it all, said Col. Todd Turner, the garrison commander for Fort Gordon.

“No one right now has all of the resources to develop all of the capabilities that we need in cyberspace,” Turner said. “By having collaboration, what we’re really doing is we’re actually improving our capability in a much more rapid pace than we would have if we do it alone.”

After the site planning is over and construction has begun, the remainder of the site will be returned to the university system so that AU can plan for additional projects that Keel said will be a “digital village” of university programs, private contractors and industries involved in related fields.

Keel said he is already fielding inquiries from companies interested in the incubator space the new facility will have. In the past nine days, seven companies in related fields whose interest in Augusta has been sparked by the new center have contacted the Augusta Economic Development Authority, said Executive Director Walter Sprouse. There is no question that some industry will move to the area before the center is even open, he said.

The city’s downtown businesses will benefit from the center and the people and students it will bring, the governor said.

“It is going to be a great thing for downtown Augusta,” Deal said. The entire state will also benefit by getting well-trained people in an area of need, which justifies the state investment, he added.

“I do not know of any other state that has taken such a bold step, and I think it is an area where Georgia will be recognized as a national leader,” he said.

To provide the educated workforce that new cyberindustries will need, the schools will have to do their part, Deal said.

“The Richmond County School System has some work to do,” he said. “They have too many chronically failing schools. In order to have the pipeline for workers and for students who will be able to take advantage of this, if you want those to be local students, they have to have an underlying good education.”

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

Tourism officials on Thursday unveiled a long-range plan that calls for linking the Augusta Common to a riverfront center , increasing public artwork in the city center and allowing visitors to tour downtown in rented golf cars.

Those proposals, and a half-dozen others, were pitched to community leaders as part of a strategy to make the city more attractive to visitors during the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau’s annual “State of Tourism” event.

“This is our roadmap – our blueprint – for the next 10 years or more,” CVB President Barry White said in an interview before the plan was presented during a luncheon at the Legends Club.

Called Augusta’s “Destination Blueprint,” the plan had only been seen by small groups of city officials and business leaders.

White said the blueprint’s recommendations were heavily influenced by ideas and concepts already identified in several downtown studies , including 2009’s Westobou Vision Urban Area Master Plan and the more recent Augusta Downtown Concept Plan by Cooper Carry, the Atlanta-based firm designing the city’s transportation tax-funded downtown streetscape projects.

“A lot of our ideas are not new,” White said. “We didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. We looked at every master plan we could find and identified every tourism-related project in them.”

With the help of Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, a Minneapolis-based tourism firm, the CVB blueprint identified the following priorities:

• Augusta Common extension: The plan calls for the downtown park to be expanded north across Reynolds Street to the levee, where a gradual incline would form a plaza at the top that connects to a floating “riverfront destination center” where visitors could rent canoes or bikes, take boat rides or simply enjoy drinks and snacks in the heart of downtown.

“The idea is that it’s got to be something on the water that will let visitors engage with the river,” White said. “North Augusta is building its destination point with Project Jackson. Right now, our only destinations would be downriver at the (city) Marina or the Boathouse.”

Most of the property the expanded Common would occupy is vacant and owned by Morris Communications Co., parent company of The Augusta Chronicle. The CVB’s artist renderings depict a tree-lined promenade extending across the property lined with various commercial and residential buildings.

• Defined downtown districts: The plan would delineate sectors based on how they have naturally developed over the years. The “Hospitality District,” for example, would encircle the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center and its adjoining properties, while the “Arts & Culture District” would encompass sections of lower Broad Street where the Augusta Museum of History and historic theaters such as the Miller, Imperial and Modjeska are clustered.

Several blocks of upper Broad Street, which has most of downtown’s bars, restaurants and art galleries, would be the “Dining & Entertainment District” while the “Medical District” would denote the health care cluster formed by University Hospital, the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center and the Augusta University Medical Center at the corner of Walton Way and 15th Street.

• Increased public art: Public sculptures and statues in Augusta is deficient compared to peer cities, White said. The plan says downtown Augusta has 13 public art examples in a one-mile radius compared to Greenville, S.C.’s 53. Asheville, N.C., White said, has 30 examples of public art within a half-mile radius of its downtown.

“If you think about great destinations and what they’re delivering, we’re a little behind,” he said.

The plan suggests creating a pedestrian connection between the Springfield Village Park and the Augusta University Riverfront Campus to promote the properties’ potential for public art gardens.

• Golf car transportation: To leverage Augusta’s standing as the world’s golf car capital – about 85 percent of production is concentrated here – street-legal, GPS-equipped electric cars would be made available for visitors to rent for downtown “micro tours.”

The golf cars for self-guided tours would be housed near the CVB’s downtown visitor center, which is expected to open at 1010 Broad St. in 12-14 months. Other golf vehicles could be operated as a shuttle service by a third party vendor, such as Nashville, Tenn.-based Joyride, which operates in that city as well as in Knoxville, Tenn., Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Panama City Beach, Fla.

“The target is the ‘last mile – distances that are too far to walk, but not far enough for a taxi or Uber,” White said.

White said the company plans to launch service in Birmingham, Ala., and Athens, Ga., this year.

• Family entertainment development: White pointed to the Columbus, Ga.’s Chattahoochee River Park, which offers urban whitewater rafting and ziplines, as an example of an “adventure park” that could be developed along Augusta Riverwalk.

• Urban trail completion: The plan says the city should concentrate on finishing the final trail sections to connect to the network that extends up the Augusta Canal to Columbia County and across the Savannah River to North Augusta.

• Creation of an international music festival: Though previous uses of James Brown’s name for festivals have been met with mixed success, the plan recommends creating an international soul music festival whose business plan forecasts profitability within five years.

“You’ve got to realize the first year or two you’re not going to make money,” White said. “But hopefully after that, it catches on and becomes self sustaining.”

• Addition of “rectangular” sports fields: Compared to peer cities, metro Augusta is deficient in sports fields that can be used for soccer, lacrosse and Quidditch, a new co-ed contact sport adopted from the Harry Potter series of fantasy books.

Aside from analyzing previous downtown studies, White said the CVB received input from groups such as the Georgia Forward-Young Gamechangers, the city’s recreation and parks department, the Greater Augusta Arts Council and from individual responses to 25,000 surveys to residents, visitors and travel writers.

“It could be the most collaborative effort that I’m aware of,” White said. “We tried to cover all our bases.”

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Damon Cline/Business Editor

North Augusta City Council gave final approval Monday to the Project Jackson Master Development Agreement, the document that governs who will do what as it rises on the Savannah River’s South Carolina side.

The vote was 6-1, with Councilman James Adams in opposition.

Steve Donohue, a Project Jackson opponent whose unsuccessful lawsuit against the city went all the way to the state Supreme Court, attended the meeting, breaking a pledge he made more than a year ago never to attend another council meeting.

He brought his own slideshow that pointed out what he considers flaws in the MDA. His main complaint was that he didn’t think the city would be able to meet revenue projections based on rising property values because state-mandated property reassessments would reduce millage rates.

For example, the city’s millage rate is now 70.5, down from 74 because of a just-completed reassessment. The revaluation of property is required every five years.

Mayor Lark Jones countered that the city already has discounted property values by 20 percent in its Project Jackson calculations, leaving room for fluctuations.

The mayor also pointed out that reassessment doesn’t mean the city would collect less money. After every reassessment, some property owners pay more because their property is worth more money, even though the rate is lower. Others pay less because their property is worth less.

Property values are important to Project Jackson because its Tax Increment Financing model harvests the difference between current values and those frozen at 1996 levels. Aiken County and the school board agreed that the city could use those incremental revenues for Project Jackson.

The city has projected 3 percent growth in property values for the MDA, when the increase is likely to be closer to 5-8 percent, Jones said. The city has another TIF that has been in place for 15 years and it has seen an average of an 8 percent increase in value, he said.

With third-reading approval, the mayor predicted that prime developer Greenstone would have an easier time getting leases for Project Jackson’s retail areas, “because people want to see progress.”

Despite the final OK, there are a “couple of loose ends,” Jones said.

The city still has to pass a bond ordinance and complete a stadium licensing agreement, but residents should see building activity going “full blast in the summertime,” he said. He’s confident the stadium will be holding GreenJacket games at the start of the 2018 season.

In other action, council also gave second-reading approval to a measure that allows it to enter an “installment purchase transaction,” an enabling arrangement for using bonds to defray costs of Project Jackson’s public infrastructure.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: James Folker

The recently announced Cyber Innovation and Training Center could put Augusta at the pinnacle of cybersecurity and training in the nation, Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday during a tour of cyber and intelligence facilities at Fort Gordon.

Deal, along with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Augusta University President Brooks Keel, got a look at military operations in the cybersecurity realm to get a better understanding of how the future training center will operate. The Cyber Innovation and Training Center will be built downtown as the Army constructs facilities to relocate the headquarters of the Army Cyber Command from Fort Belvoir, Va. to Fort Gordon. Deal called the center a “cyber range” on which trainers will work with students to hone their skills on the cyberwarfare battlefield.

“Sometimes we hate to think that we are living in a world where we have to combat the attacks that so many industries, government and others, are being impacted by, but it is a reality,” Cagle said. “We want to make sure Georgians are safe, and we are taking the steps to do that.”

Of the tour, Deal said, “They gave us a better understanding of the various cybersecurity efforts that they now command and control, and I must say it is impressive.”

He said the new center will depend on a number of state entities, including the Georgia National Guard, the Georgia Technology Authority and various universities and technical colleges, especially Augusta University. Deal said the Department of Economic Development would also play a role because of the growth in business and workforce expected to accompany the center.

Though he did not give an estimate of the number of jobs expected to be created, Deal did say it would be a considerable number and that roads and infrastructure will need to be updated as the private-public partnership gets underway.

Deal noted the importance of private sector involvement because of the pervasive nature of cyberattacks, saying the world we live in is steeped in networked devices.

Keel said, “Cybersecurity isn’t just a military application but is everywhere.”

He said even common household items such as refrigerators can now be hacked, and teams at Augusta University are working on fighting hacks against biomedical equipment such as pacemakers.

Deal, Cagle and Keel all said the inclusive approach to the center will make it unique.

“Not only are we going to continue to be the No. 1 state in which to do business but we’re going to provide businesses with the opportunity to do business in the safest state in the United States,” Deal said.

Keel said the new center will allow Augusta to become a magnet for industry and give the community a vital role in national security.

According to the governor, about $1 billion in construction and upgrades is planned at Fort Gordon during the next three years as the Army Cyber Command settles in. Deal said his proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 contains $50 million for the Cyber Innovation and Training Center, which he expects to be completed in early 2019.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Thomas Gardiner/Staff Writer


Do Telfair and Fifth streets need a landscaped median? Should art adorn the Gordon Highway underpass?

Those questions and more were posed to residents at a session Tuesday seeking feedback on proposed major overhauls to Telfair, Fifth and Greene streets.

The plans are the work of Atlanta landscape architecture firm Cooper Carry, which released similar proposals for Broad, 13th and Sixth streets and James Brown Boulevard in November.

The concept drawings are part of an estimated $83 million road project to be paid for by the Transportation Investment Act, a 1 percent sales tax for transportation, when collections amass in 2020 and later.

Greene Street resident Beth Proctor eyed the “underpass art plaza” the plan showed under the Gordon Highway bridge where it crosses her street.

“Really?” she asked. The obscured area isn’t safe – and “more foot traffic may or may not help,” she noted.

Proctor and many who attended the input session and previous sessions on the sweeping plans raised familiar concerns about Augusta’s downtown.

Gary Warner, project manager for Cooper Carry, said feedback has centered largely around the topics of maintenance – which isn’t funded by the TIA – loading, lane changes, trees and parking.

California artists have taken over underpasses there such as the Gordon Highway proposal and made them “sacred places,” Warner said.

The proposals showed lanes removed from Telfair and Fifth streets and a landscaped median added to both. Greene gains pedestrian crossing zones and seating around its historic monuments.

Elliott Caldwell, the complete streets coordinator for Georgia Bikes, applauded the inclusion of bike lanes on Broad and other streets.

“That shows leadership,” to welcome bike and pedestrian traffic, “in the regional main drag” of metro Augusta, Caldwell said.

And the city shouldn’t overlook making all its public spaces accessible to people with disabilities, insisted resident Dora Hawes, who said she was surprised to see even recent city work completed that wasn’t accessible.

Residents at the input session complained of maintenance deficiencies and the need for infrastructure work to prevent the flooding that plagues downtown streets.

“Lipstick on a pig,” one commented. “Can you bring your own (maintenance) crew?” another asked Warner.

The firm will produce an estimate for maintenance costs for the city to work with as plans are finalized, Warner said.

Warner said while feedback has come in on either side, the firm hasn’t made a final decision about whether to recommend removing the sunken parking bays in the Broad Street median, a proposal from the November concept drawings.

Retired Realtor David Penix lamented destroying the bays, designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei in the 1970s, saying it “destroyed art” that generates interest in downtown.

The sunken bays, prone to drain clogs and ponding during rains, become “nasty,” commented Commissioner Sean Frantom, who held an earlier session Tuesday on moving the James Brown statue in the Broad Street median to the Augusta Common.

James Brown Plaza was the subject of a Cooper Carry redesign from a year ago, and November plans showed it moving down Broad toward James Brown Boulevard. Warner said he wasn’t sure what the current status of the statue was.

Regardless, “downtown is going to boom,” Frantom said, with ongoing development of hotels, apartments and the Cyber Innovation and Training Center announced last week for riverfront property at Reynolds and 13th streets.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Susan McCord/Staff Writer