The Downtown Development Authority of Augusta said Monday it plans to hire an Alabama retail consulting firm to aid in attracting businesses to Augusta.
Retail Strategies will provide the authority with market analysis, strategic planning and retail recruitment services. The project will involve a building inventory.
The three-year contract is expected to cost $40,000 to $60,000, with part of the funding coming from the private sector. As of Monday, Augusta Tomorrow, Augusta Regional Collaboration, The Emporium and Golden Living Centers of Augusta had contributed to the project.
“Our focus over the last five years has been doing anything we can to help people get more housing units downtown,” said Margaret Woodard, the development authority’s executive director. “We have a 99 percent occupancy rate. The living market is ready.”
The opening of the Augusta Convention Center in February is another factor that makes downtown prime for an increased emphasis on retail, Woodard said.
“This is the natural next step in our revitalization strategy,” said Cameron Nixon, the chairman of the authority.
“With 75 new units completed last year, a 99 percent occupancy rate and with the successful efforts in Laney-Walker and East Boundary, we need retail to support the existing base and attract future investments.”
The development authority is scheduled to complete the agreement with Retail Strategies at its May 9 board meeting.
The project will be done in three phases. The first is to update downtown’s demographics through studies that will pinpoint what type of retail projects are needed, said Woodard, who expects that process to take about a year.
“The demographic reports alone are worth the investment,” Nixon said. “The gap analysis will be available for existing businesses to look at expansion efforts and maintain a competitive edge as well as attract new retail.”
The goal of the initiative is to make downtown Augusta a “retail destination,” Woodard said.
Additional housing projects are in the works that could bring 35 more units downtown in the next six months, Woodard said.
“It’s hot,” she said. “Everybody wants to return to the urban core. There are waiting lists to get in projects down here.”