Georgia Health Sciences University would get riverfront land formerly occupied by the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame if the Legislature honors a request by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.
While there are no firm plans yet for the 16-acre site, GHSU President Ricardo Azziz said he can see a number of potential uses for expansion with the merger with Augusta State University, including student housing, arts, academic programs and an “innovation center.”
The Regents’ Real Estate and Facilities Committee voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to ask the state to transfer the property to GHSU. There is a resolution pending in the Legislature to approve that transfer.
An agenda item for the regents notes that because of the type of bonds the state used to purchase the land in 1996, it cannot be sold for private development until the bonds mature in 2015.
Azziz confirmed the restriction but said public-private partnerships would still be possible.
“The overall purpose will continue to be the same, and that is to support the university’s growth,” he said. “We are not contemplating having standard commercial ventures on that property.”
The state bought the land on Reynolds Street, demolished the warehouses and landscaped lavish gardens that were to become the home of the Hall of Fame. The goal was to give visitors a taste of the scenery on the course at Augusta National Golf Club, which is only open to the public during the Masters Tournament.
Fundraising for the Hall of Fame never took off, and the state eventually abolished it. Legislators have tried to get the state to give the land to Augusta-Richmond County, but the state wouldn’t agree without covering the $6 million in 20-year bonds it issued to borrow the original purchase price.
Azziz had previously talked about using the site for a potential biotech park.
He said it could still have an “innovation center,” plus student housing and “arts initiatives that the school will be needing.”
Academic programs that do not need to be connected to either the Summerville or medical district campus could also go there.
While there will not be definitive planning until the land transfer is completed, the school aims to fund any programs or building there largely through partnerships, collaboration and philanthropy, Azziz said.
“We should certainly not sit back and just wait for the state to provide resources that we need to build those areas,” he said. “Certainly we will welcome that assistance, but we will begin to plan even in the absence of that.”
Some city leaders had envisioned a baseball park there as part of a larger development downtown. Azziz said he could not speak to those plans. But the university’s involvement could provide a “win-win” for the university and the city, he said.
“I think this is going to benefit strongly the city of Augusta, the downtown area, and will certainly benefit the new university as it develops and as it grows,” he said.
“This is an important step that the Regents have made both to show their support for the new university as well as show their support for our community.”