Category Archives: Uncategorized

URA inks agreement with Atlanta developer for apartment complex

A city bonding entity took the plunge Tuesday and entered into a development agreement with Atlanta-based Columbia Ventures to build what will be a $32 million apartment complex adjacent to Augusta University’s downtown campus.

The Urban Redevelopment Agency chaired by former Mayor Bob Young voted 5-0 to enter the agreement with Columbia, whom the city enlisted several years ago to assist in developing “nodes” within the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem redevelopment area. The historically black communities in 2009 were granted $37.5 million in tourism fees over 50 years for redevelopment.

The proposal for “Foundry Place,” named for a nearby former industrial site, goes beyond the tourism funding stream and calls for the URA to issue a $27 million revenue bond for its financing and Columbia to fund 20 percent of construction costs that exceed a certain amount for the 221-unit market-rate apartment complex.

The plan is for the URA to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the city later this spring to build the complex on a 7.6-acre city-owned site and lease it to Columbia, Young said.

Located on the edge of the Laney-Walker redevelopment zone in the Bethlehem community, the site is across R.A. Dent Boulevard and the CSX rail line from the new AU dental school and dormitories. The development plan shows six buildings lining McCauley Street and Wrightsboro Road.

Columbia has four ongoing projects including two partnerships to build MARTA stations in metro Atlanta and an independent living complex called City Lights in the Old Fourth Ward section of Atlanta, according to the firm’s proposal.

Potential tenants for the Augusta project’s market-rate apartments include 43 percent of some 40,000 people located within a two-mile radius with jobs that earn more than $40,000 a year, according to a market study presented Tuesday.

City officials have expressed reservations about building market-rate apartments that nearby residents can’t afford, but more affordable options under development nearby are said to balance out the disparity.

Among AU students, the development is expected to have the highest interest among graduate students due to its proximity to the health sciences campus, and moderate interest from undergraduates, the study said.

Rick Berry, a housing expert now with Faith Housing Coalition, said he attended the Tuesday meeting to observe but called the proposal’s 25 percent per month apartment absorption rate – achieved as units are leased – “pretty impressive.”

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

With no “official” entrance to Riverwalk Augusta, city officials say it’s possible visitors could end up missing downtown Augusta’s greatest natural asset: the Savannah River.

But that should be less likely to happen if Augusta commissioners approve two proposed archways on Reynolds Street designed to serve as visible gateways to the riverfront recreation area.

The Downtown Development Authority approved Thursday a design concept for the arches, which would be built at the intersections of Eighth and Ninth streets.

“Those were the strategic corridors; near the Augusta Common, near the center of everything,” said Rick Keuroglian, chairman of the authority’s design committee, which settled on a design from three concepts created by Atlanta-based Cooper Carry, the architecture firm overseeing the city’s transportation tax-funded downtown streetscape projects.

The two wrought-iron arches, funded by special purpose local option sales tax funds and budgeted at roughly $270,000 each, would span the entire width of the street with the word “Riverwalk” centered at the top. They would be anchored to LED-illuminated concrete supports faced with red brick designed to mimic the look of historic downtown buildings.

“This was the one we gravitated toward the most,” said Keuroglian, director of community development for First Presbyterian Church of Augusta.

The Eighth Street arch would span the street from the corner of the historic Augusta Cotton Exchange building to the dirt parking lot across the street. The Ninth Street/James Brown Boulevard arch would stretch from the Augusta Convention Center to the Beamie’s At The River restaurant and tavern.

The archway proposal could go before the Augusta Commission for final approval as early as next week. If approved, the project could be completed within seven months, Downtown Development Authority Director Margaret Woodard said.

The authority’s Riverwalk Augusta improvements also include pre-fabricated shade structures that would be placed at various locations along the riverfront attraction. Woodard said those locations have not yet been finalized.

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

Augusta is definitely a top spot for small business to thrive in our state. I recently connected with theClubhou.se in Augusta, a technology-oriented incubator. The group provides individuals with the space, guidance and network necessary to tackle the challenges they may face as a new company.

Located in a historic schoolhouse, theClubhou.se is a place of ideas that focus on knowledge, creativity and implementation through two main efforts: learning and prototyping, and co-working and business incubation. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out – you should!

Co-founder of theClubhou.se, Eric Parker, is one of the nation’s leading innovation architects. Parker is always eager to share his insight with other communities looking to create a similar business in their local area. While the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s small-business team receives more than 1,000 inquiries a year from all over the state, anyone close to the Augusta region is pointed in theClubhou.se’s direction to see if solid connections can be made.

The metro Augusta region also is home to many of the state’s 129 “Entrepreneur Friendly” communities, including Richmond, Columbia, Burke, McDuffie and Lincoln counties. The state’s Entrepreneur Friendly Community Initiative helps counties build entrepreneur and small-business strategies into their overall economic development efforts.

The six-month process helps communities identify strengths, weaknesses, resources and eye-opening best practices to help them build and sustain an enabling business environment.

Whether you are starting or growing a small business in Georgia, we want you to be successful. In fact, 1,016 companies received one-on-one assistance from the department’s Entrepreneur &Small Business division during the 2016 fiscal year. From conception to expansion, our team is ready, willing and able to assist.

Georgia’s victory in small business is also a result of strong leadership of Gov. Nathan Deal, a true advocate for small businesses who has done an incredible job of creating a pro-business environment. Furthermore, Deal has declared March 13-17 as Georgia Small Business Week, when he encourages all Georgians to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements made by small businesses across the state.

During the week, we will also celebrate Georgia’s four “Small-Business Rock Stars,” that have risen to the top as outstanding, unique and impactful small businesses. These companies have shown increases in revenue, sales, exporting, product lines, jobs and economic impact. Additionally, the companies have shown a dedication to creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit. On Monday, a panel of judges will select the Rock Stars from a pool of 135 nominations.

In Augusta, and all over the state, small businesses are finding access to everything they need to remain competitive in the market and meet the growing demands of their customers.

To learn more about how we can help your small business grow and excel, please visit: www.georgia.org/small-business.

Augusta is definitely a top spot for small business to thrive in our state. I recently connected with theClubhou.se in Augusta, a technology-oriented incubator. The group provides individuals with the space, guidance and network necessary to tackle the challenges they may face as a new company.

Located in a historic schoolhouse, theClubhou.se is a place of ideas that focus on knowledge, creativity and implementation through two main efforts: learning and prototyping, and co-working and business incubation. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out – you should!

Co-founder of theClubhou.se, Eric Parker, is one of the nation’s leading innovation architects. Parker is always eager to share his insight with other communities looking to create a similar business in their local area. While the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s small-business team receives more than 1,000 inquiries a year from all over the state, anyone close to the Augusta region is pointed in theClubhou.se’s direction to see if solid connections can be made.

The metro Augusta region also is home to many of the state’s 129 “Entrepreneur Friendly” communities, including Richmond, Columbia, Burke, McDuffie and Lincoln counties. The state’s Entrepreneur Friendly Community Initiative helps counties build entrepreneur and small-business strategies into their overall economic development efforts.

The six-month process helps communities identify strengths, weaknesses, resources and eye-opening best practices to help them build and sustain an enabling business environment.

Whether you are starting or growing a small business in Georgia, we want you to be successful. In fact, 1,016 companies received one-on-one assistance from the department’s Entrepreneur &Small Business division during the 2016 fiscal year. From conception to expansion, our team is ready, willing and able to assist.

Georgia’s victory in small business is also a result of strong leadership of Gov. Nathan Deal, a true advocate for small businesses who has done an incredible job of creating a pro-business environment. Furthermore, Deal has declared March 13-17 as Georgia Small Business Week, when he encourages all Georgians to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements made by small businesses across the state.

During the week, we will also celebrate Georgia’s four “Small-Business Rock Stars,” that have risen to the top as outstanding, unique and impactful small businesses. These companies have shown increases in revenue, sales, exporting, product lines, jobs and economic impact. Additionally, the companies have shown a dedication to creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit. On Monday, a panel of judges will select the Rock Stars from a pool of 135 nominations.

In Augusta, and all over the state, small businesses are finding access to everything they need to remain competitive in the market and meet the growing demands of their customers.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Mary Ellen McClanahan/Director of Entrepreneur & Small Business Division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development

 

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