A city in bloom

No other sporting event is as steeped in tradition as the Masters. In fact, the word "tradition" could almost carry an Augusta National copyright.


Yet, not even the oldest traditions are unchanged by time, and even the Masters Tournament changes from year to year. Holes are altered. Parking and traffic are rerouted. Internet innovations pop up. And this year, the National invited youths aged 8-16 to accompany ticketed adults free, in order to spread the joy of golf among the very young.

Likewise, the city of Augusta is awash in tradition. Regarded by many as a standard-bearer of Old South sensibilities, we still have debutantes and cotillions. The historic buildings, the soothing Savannah, the magnolias and the azaleas, and the measured pace of life all serve to make some feel as if they've stepped back in time.

In truth, though, under the serene surface, Augusta is a city on the move. And if Masters visitors return in just a few years, they will see -- and perhaps feel -- precisely what we mean.

Nowhere will this be truer than downtown, where historic theaters are being restored to live on among new, skyline-changing projects.

Take Reynolds Street, for instance. The avenue that borders the scenic Savannah downtown will be seeing at least two big developments, and perhaps three or four, in the next few years. Riverfront condominiums and other buildings will be rising near the old railroad depot in the 500 block. A new trade, exhibition and event (TEE) center will connect to the Marriott at 10th Street. And a wide expanse of prime riverfront land upstream to 13th Street -- perhaps some of the most promising downtown riverfront land in the country -- is being viewed for a number of developments.

Other hotel and parking projects are also on the drawing board.

Meanwhile, property owners downtown banded together in the past year to form a business improvement district that is funding the "Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative," featuring sanitation and safety workers putting a shine and a smile on the city core.

Less obvious to the eye, but no less pleasing, are loft apartments and new retail and office space in former department store buildings along Broad Street.

But even less apparent, especially to the visitor, is the new attitude wafting through the air of this town like seeds unseen. There's a feeling here that Augusta is a city swiftly moving from potential to promise to plan.

Even our politics are vastly improved over the last few years. Where else can you say that?

Much credit is due Mayor Deke Copenhaver and Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard, who have helped lead the city rather than just manage it. Attracted by the climate -- and we don't just mean the weather -- companies have brought hundreds of new jobs to town, and the tax digest and the quality of life are both on the upswing. Yet, Augusta remains one of the most affordable cities in the country.

Again, how many places can you say all that about in this day and age?

No visitors have gotten a better look at all this than the business people from around the country who have visited Augusta this past week through the state's Red Carpet Tour and the local Augusta Showcase. Observers report the guests were both serious about seeing Augusta and pleased with what they've seen -- thanks to the state and Augusta and Columbia County chambers of commerce. And Mayor Copenhaver managed to enlist Gov. Sonny Perdue and Augusta GreenJackets owner Cal Ripken in the hosting duties.

Someday, those business prospects who got the red carpet treatment this week may be the ones with "Augusta" on their shirts showing visitors around a city on the move.

Not even the Masters stands still.

Why should Augusta?



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