Making his final “State of the City” address Thursday, Mayor Deke Copenhaver outlined a legacy of creating jobs, building buildings, uniting the community and having an occasional regret.
Copenhaver, giving the speech at a meeting of the Augusta Exchange Club, is completing his second full term and is ineligible to run again this year. He has no immediate plans to seek another elected office, he said.
“I get so frustrated because it’s so hyper-partisan now,” he said. “I’m somebody that focuses on the common ground, and to go any further would drive me crazy.”
Copenhaver said his greatest accomplishments were uniting the community in prayer, recently holding his “98th straight” prayer breakfast, and constructing, with the help of former Administrator Fred Russell, a new library, convention center, sheriff’s administration building and courthouse.
“Elected officials get bogged down in petty issues, but if you just focus on building things, that helps our city in the long run,” said Copenhaver, repeating words of advice he received years ago from Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joe Riley.
Russell, a guest of former mayor’s administrative assistant Karyn Nixon, was fired by the commission last month but is now one of five candidates seeking the mayor’s seat.
Asked whether he had any regrets by congressional candidate and Exchange Club member Rick Allen, Copenhaver lamented Augusta’s loss of the Augusta GreenJackets stadium to North Augusta. The mayor started a push seven years ago to build the minor-league baseball team a new stadium, but it never gained favor with city taxpayers.
“I thought with the baseball stadium, that people would get that it wasn’t such a hot-button issue,” he said. North Augusta “got to a point in six months that we couldn’t get to in six years.”
Copenhaver also spoke about:
• Jobs associated with the arrival of the Army Cyber Command: “I don’t think people fully comprehend how big that is,” he said, with about “1,500 moving to the area to work on the fort in the next year alone.” With each Army job come as many as “five defense contractor jobs off post.”
• Handling growth from the Cyber Command: “That growth is going to have to be managed. My hope is that particularly during the mayor’s race, that is a question that is asked of all the mayoral candidates.”
• Behaving better as the Cyber Command arrives: “As a community, we are under a microscope every day from Washington. The head of Cyber Command gets a briefing of what’s going on in Augusta every single morning.”
• A $721 million wish list of projects for the next round of the special purpose local option sales tax: “I believe that we can whittle that down to $190 million,” Copenhaver said. Any more, “and the success rate gets significantly lower.”
• Including $8 million in the sales tax package for Georgia Regents University’s new cancer research center: “The overall impact of that cancer center on our area cannot be understated … When you talk about ROI (return on investment), that is huge.”
• The city’s Mills Campus proposal for GRU: “The university is fully on board. They’ve worked with the city every step of the way.” GRU has promised to put all new facilities in the “city center,” he said. “That is a huge win for downtown.”
• The long-dead Regency Mall: “The owners are asking $50 million for a property that’s worth $5 million. I’m hopeful that with the Cyber Command coming you’re going to see a lot of redevelopment along Gordon Highway … Jimmie Dyess Parkway is just going to explode.” Regency Mall “will be up to the next mayor, more than likely.”