Author Archives: Augusta Tomorrow

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

University Hospital CEO Jim Davis raised his shovel and demolished a sand sculpture representation of his old Emergency Department as staff cheered. Renovating the real thing will take a lot longer and a lot more effort.

University held a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday on its $30 million renovation of the department, which could take as long as three years. Davis said it has taken almost that long to plan it, having rejected two or three previous designs to get to this one. Unlike the current “maze,” this one will feature “pods” of 12 patient rooms ringed around a central staffing station that allows staff to access rooms more efficiently and quickly, said Mary Anne Nolan, director of Emergency Services.

“We are close to our patients,” she said. “Our patients can see us, we can see them. It’s a little more personal.”

Instead of one central supply room now, each pod will have its own and it will greatly decrease the amount of travel staff have to make each shift, Nolan said.

“It is not overstated to say staff can walk up to 10 miles in a shift,” she said.

It also improves patient care, Davis said.

“We’re very close to the patients all of the time and we’re also very close to all of the supplies and the equipment we need to care for the patients,” he said.

It increases the ­capacity of the department, which was designed to handle 50,000 visits a year but last year saw nearly 83,000, Davis said.

The new department will be able to handle up to 100,000 visits and increases the number of treatment rooms from 55 to 78. With an aging population that is frequently suffering more chronic health problems, about half of University’s patients are coming through the ER now, making it the “front door of the hospital” for those patients, Davis said.

Building a new and better department is only fitting and reflects University’s service and commitment to the community, said Dr. Mac Bowman, medical director for cardiovascular services. He waxed poetic about finally getting a facility where “the soul, the culture of University Hospital is surrounded by an edifice that equals it in worth and magnitude.”

Source:The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Tom Corwin

Georgia Power and the Downtown Development Authority have created a matching-grant program to encourage downtown property owners to spruce up vacant buildings.

The utility Tuesday donated $15,000 to the redevelopment organization to prompt owners to invest in exterior beautification and interior renovations that make their buildings more “move-in ready.”

“We’re hoping this will spur owners to redo facades that are in bad shape,” said Margaret Woodard, Downtown Development Authority executive director. “The ultimate goal is to get more usable space downtown.”

She said the maximum award would be $5,000 per project, meaning owners who invest $10,000 or more worth of qualified building improvements or code-compliance work would be eligible for a $5,000 rebate check.

Woodard said the authority plans to have an application form posted online next week. She said she expects the money will go quickly.

“With the amount of activity going on, it will definitely be used up this year,” she said.

Georgia Power Region Vice President Fran Forehand said the donation is an opportunity to assist with downtown revitalization efforts that not only benefit the community but potentially expand the company’s customer base.

“We’ve been a huge advocate of downtown development authorities across the state,” she said. “To us, if you can get development going in any parts of the community, whether its downtown or elsewhere, that’s just economic development 101.”

DDA Chairman Scylance Scott said the authority hopes the initiative serves as a “pilot program” that can be continued by tapping “other funding sources.”

Woodard said the program grew out of a discussion last year with Matt Forshee, Georgia Power’s regional economic development manager.

Earlier this month the utility gave $10,000 to the Waynesboro Downtown Development Authority in Burke County to fund a similar grant project. And over the summer it donated $4,000 to the Augusta downtown authority to fund a detailed housing inventory study and residential feasibility report in the central business district.

“It’s our way of giving back to the community where we live and serve,” Forehand said.

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

The business boom in Augusta is set to bring more people in their 20s and 30s to the area, especially downtown. In fact, a lot of millennials are moving to Augusta because of the growth that’s already started.  And as the new companies announce their arrivals we can expect more.

“You’ve got the Riverwalk, you’ve got that entire nightlife scene down there,” Joe Edge, President and Owner of Sherman and Hemstreet described.

Downtown may be home to dozens of vacant buildings, but that could be a good thing.

“Your loft apartments, housing.  For the last at least five years there has been a big demand for housing in that area whether it’s college students or young professionals,” Edge explained.

The group known as Millennials, born between 1977 and 1995, are beginning to nestle into the Garden City and realty companies such as Sherman and Hemstreet also expect them to work there too.

“Millennials typically like the open spaces,” Edge said.  “More of a shared co-working type of atmosphere versus your traditional box office style where everybody has a little cubicle or an office space.”

They also prefer working from home and Edge said that’s why many places are vacant. But the newly announced Innovation Zone in the old Woolworths building will satisfy the need of those 20 to 30 somethings relocating.

“I have a dog and when we’re walking around Olde Town we run into our neighbors and it’s typically young people,” said Bryn Towner of Augusta.

Towner is one of those young professionals who relocated to the Garden City from Atlanta to work University Hospital’s philanthropic arm.  She told me she is seeing more people her age join Young Professionals of Augusta where she serves as president.

“We were overflowing.  We had more young professionals there than we had seats for,” she added.

And it won’t just be a place to work, but also a place to play.

“The city is growing and it continues to have opportunities for social life or night life,” Towner explained.  “The surrounding area offers plenty of recreational opportunities.  We love sharing about the fact that the cost of living is very affordable and housing is great.”

The only downside to the influx is keeping up with the demand as more and more businesses announce openings.

“You’ve got a bunch of properties that people have been sitting on for years and they’re not doing anything with them.  They won’t put them on the market. They won’t open them up to new investors to come in and do something with them. I guess they’re just sitting on them waiting to see what happens,” Edge explained. “The problem is that  we need those properties to open up so that people can actually do something with them.  The timing is now.”

Another challenge Joe Edge mentioned was parking.  But a benefit to living and working downtown is we could see more people walking and maybe even biking.

Source:WJBF

A proposed $50 million state-owned cybersecurity innovation center would be built in Augusta, nearly 150 miles from Atlanta’s rapidly growing cyber hub. Despite that distance, enthusiastic Atlanta-based cybersecurity industry executives say the halo effect of a state-backed  research and training hub will pay dividends for Atlanta’s cybersecurity sector by driving private investment to the sector, attracting cyber companies and nurturing home-grown startups.

The new cyber center will focus on several missions, including education, training and research and development. It also will be an incubator hub for cybersecurity startups.

The center will train Georgia teachers in cyber instruction aimed at elementary and secondary school students, said Calvin Rhodes, executive director of the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA), the state agency coordinating the initiative.

At the college level, the center will supplement cyber courses taught on campuses across the state including Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State University, he said.

The new center will also provide cybersecurity training to state employees, a need at agencies increasingly susceptible to cyber crime. A key tool in those education and training programs will be the center’s cyber range, a virtual environment that will create scenarios for students to practice what they’ve learned.

The cyber range will have practical applications for small cyber companies that can’t afford their own range.

“We can bring in start-up or mid-size companies that want to leverage the range to try out a product,” Rhodes said.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is in a hurry to get construction of the center under way as soon as possible. He’s asking the General Assembly to include the $50 million he is seeking as a cash appropriation in the mid-year 2017 budget rather than finance the project with bonds in the fiscal 2018 budget, the usual route for large state building projects.

Source: WABE 90.1 Atlanta Business Chronicle
Author: Dave Williams covers government for Atlanta Business Chronicle
Author: Urvaksh Karkaria covers technology for Atlanta Business Chronicle.

 

 

As a $50 million cyber security facility is set to come to Augusta, a group of local leaders is working to create a place for future business and tech leaders to live, work and play in downtown Augusta.

Investors are working to bring the old Woolworth’s building, and Augusta, into the 21st century.

The Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center will be just a few blocks away, so local leaders are working on another investment in Augusta’s tech potential.

“We’re going to have residential, office space, co-working space, as well as incubator space, as well as a rooftop bar and grill,” said Deke Copenhaver, a co-founder of the Augusta Innovation Zone.

The six co-founders of the Augusta Innovation Zone are hoping they’ll be able to renovate the space by the end of the year into a hub of industry and leisure in the heart of downtown Augusta on Broad Street.

“The first floor is going to be all co-working space, which is very cool because you’re going to be able to come in and find a desk if you just need a desk, or you can find a dedicated spot if you need that,” said “I-Zone” co-founder Tommy Wafford. “Or if you’re a four-person team and you need a small office, you can do that here too.”

The project will cost about $5 million, but the physical space is just a part of how it hopes to foster growth in tech industry.

The Augusta Innovation Zone will host an “incubator” program, which will provide coaching for entrepreneurs over two or three months, after which they will be able to pitch their product to investors.

“It’ll be like Augusta’s own version of Shark Tank,” Wafford said.

Wafford says they’ll be able to bring in about $150 million dollars of funding from Atlanta firms to invest in Augusta businesses.

Another big draw is a 12,000 square foot rooftop. Local restaurateur George Claussen says he plans to open a restaurant and bar on the roof. He says there will also be two shipping containers that will house breakfast and lunch spots.

“It’s very very cool, very very innovative,” Claussen said.

He says he hopes to have the rooftop open for business by the end of 2017.

Source: AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)-

Amid a flurry of downtown Augusta news, city officials took a moment Thursday to celebrate the end of part of a downtown streetscape project.

Years in the making, the Downtown Development Authority recently completed a four-block upgrade of James Brown Boulevard sidewalks at $500 under its $812,000 budget, DDA Executive Director Margaret Woodard said.

“All of us that have worked and labored in the trenches for this moment can stand and be acknowledged,” said Scylance Scott, DDA chairman and the head of Antioch Ministries, a church-based development group.

The project was funded through a Transportation Enhancement grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation and $162,000 in city funds. The DDA applied for the grant and administered the project under a contract with the city.

Georgia DOT board member Don Grantham tied the ribbon-cutting in with Gov. Nathan Deal’s Wednesday announcement the state is building the new Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center a few blocks away on Augusta’s riverfront.

“That $50 million is going to go a long way in building a six-story building on the Golf and Gardens,” Grantham said.

At one end of the streetscape project’s boundaries, one of two new downtown hotels is going up, joining several other developments local leaders hope is building the “critical mass” needed to propel downtown forward.

The project’s new sidewalks, pavers and lighting stretch from Reynolds Street to Telfair Street, but miss a few spots, including in the 100 block of James Brown where a proprietor at the Brass Ring noted the sidewalks looked “pretty hideous.” The section of sidewalk has been known to trip patrons headed along James Brown toward Riverwalk Augusta, she said.

Woodard said the section was skipped because adjacent hotel construction would likely damage it but that it “will get done.”

The ribbon cutting comes as the DDA negotiates a new contract with Augusta for a second grant-funded streetscape project, six blocks south along James Brown between Laney-Walker Boulevard and Twiggs Circle.

The DDA projects are separate from what is an estimated $83 million streetscape overhaul of seven downtown streets under development to be funded by the new one-percent Transportation Investment Act sales tax.

Conceptual plans have been developed for that project and await public input and commission approval. Streets named in the project include Greene, Telfair, Broad, Fifth, Sixth and 13th streets as well as James Brown.

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