Optimism abounded but few specifics followed a meeting Friday afternoon between Georgia Health Sciences University, Ripken Baseball, Jacoby Development and a host of city leaders about the future of the former Golf Hall of Fame site and other potential developments in the city.
“Nothing is off the table,” said GHSU President Ricardo Azziz, who will lead a merged school with Augusta State University in the future. The University System of Georgia Board of Regents has asked the state to transfer the 16-acre riverfront Golf Hall site to GHSU, and Azziz said he could see many possibilities from the university side. Most successful universities that are in cities with a river have some attractive riverfront property, he said.
“Usually those properties are reserved for innovative, creative things: a performing arts center that dovetails with a school of music, an innovation center that dovetails with the sciences, some higher-level student housing that is very attractive,” he said. The university had previously pitched the site by the Savannah River as a potential spot for a biotech park.
The property has also been eyed for more than four years by Ripken Baseball for a downtown multiuse stadium that could be the new home of the Augusta GreenJackets. Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who has presented his vision for a riverfront stadium along with Ripken, said the discussion Friday involved “multiple uses for our riverfront property.” Officials are just happy to see something happening there, he said.
“That’s the first movement we’ve had on the property, literally in years and years, so that is a huge step in the right direction,” Copenhaver said.
Ripken is still looking for a new stadium for the GreenJackets, either by Augusta’s riverfront or elsewhere, said Jeff Eiseman, Ripken Baseball’s vice president of sales and marketing. For Ripken Baseball to stay long term in the Augusta market, it will need to happen, he said.
“Nothing’s been changed to Lake Olmstead Stadium that would change that from when we spoke about this a year ago or two years ago. We’re encouraged by the progress we’re making,” he said. “We still have a lot of steps to go, obviously. But as long as we can see a path forward in figuring out how to do it, we’re good. Ultimately, something needs to be done.”
Jacoby is still prepared to develop the plan, Senior Vice President Scott Condra said.
“We’re still saying that there’s a potential for a mixed-use development” on the riverfront parcel, he said.
Azziz said the site could handle multiple developments along with university projects.
“It doesn’t preclude a large stadium,” he said. “You just have to study the restrictions, you just have to study how this would dovetail with a university program. At the foremost, we need to make sure it is good for the university as well as becoming good for the city.”
The next step is to have another meeting, perhaps in the next three or four weeks, that might be less formal and involve fewer officials and more people directly involved in planning and development, Azziz said.
Ultimately, the goal is to benefit all, and having people there can be just as important for development, Azziz said.
“What people need to remember is that in order to build up an area you have to have people that either live or play or work in those areas permanently, not transiently,” he said. The newly merged university could “serve as an anchor for the future. That’s how you develop these areas.”