As Georgia Health Sciences University officials contemplate how to develop a 16-acre tract of riverfront property in downtown Augusta, a good example already sits in Columbus, Ga.
The Georgia General Assembly voted last month to give the former Golf Hall of Fame site to the University System of Georgia, pending Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature. The system’s Board of Regents asked that it be given to GHSU, which is merging with Augusta State University to form a new regional research university.
GHSU President Ricardo Azziz said he would look to other universities that have a strong riverfront presence. One he mentioned specifically was Columbus State University.
The 8,300-student school has a separate RiverPark Campus downtown, six miles from its main campus, that houses its College of Arts, with art, music, theater and communications students, as well as history and geography programs, CSU President Timothy Mescon said. The programs work in tandem with other city features downtown – the Schwob School of Music is housed entirely in the RiverCenter, the city’s performing arts center, and the astronomy program is housed in the Coca-Cola Space Science Center, also on the Chattahoochee River front.
“Many would argue that a key driver behind the gentrification of the riverfront and what we call Uptown Columbus, which is really downtown Columbus, has been driven by the extraordinary partnership between the university, the city of Columbus and the private sector,” Mescon said.
The university has been a “catalyst” for what could be roughly $750 million in investment in the area during the past 15-20 years, said Richard Bishop, the president of Uptown Columbus and the business improvement district.
By the end of summer, the university will also have student beds downtown, Mescon said.
“Folks will tell you that having our students not just study downtown, but live downtown, has changed the whole complexion,” he said. “They just add to a different kind of vibrancy of campus life there, which I think is great for this community.”
It might also help the university toward its goal of enrolling 10,000 students a year. For instance, for the past three years the RiverPark campus has hosted ThesCon, a high school theater student convention that draws about 3,000 a year, and it is paying off, Mescon said.
“Our theater program has tripled in enrollment,” he said. “Students come, they see our facilities, they act on our stages, they get a feel for downtown, which is why we are building new housing downtown, because it is just a neat attraction for a certain segment of students.”
The Chattahoochee itself is about to transform as a white-water project comes to fruition next year, which will add 2.5 miles of white-water rafting through the riverfront area and officials said would be the largest urban white-water course in the East. They hope new tourists will not only be lured by it, but by the riverfront area and historic district downtown.
“It’s a pretty cool scene,” Bishop said.