The Augusta Regional Collaboration Project needs nearly $12 million to advance its “Mills District” proposal, with or without involvement by Georgia Regents University, according to ARC Executive Director Matt Kwatinetz.
In a Monday presentation of requests to go on the city’s next special purpose, local option sales tax referendum, Kwatinetz informed the one commissioner who attended, Wayne Guilfoyle, that renovating two historic textile mills in the Harrisburg Mill District is “similar to having a mall” in that the project needs an anchor tenant.
For more than a year, Mayor Deke Copenhaver and some commission members have pushed the idea of renovating the Sibley and King mills – a combined 1 million square feet of vacant real estate located on 2,000 acres of greenspace – into educational or housing space to support the consolidation of Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University.
While the city has spent $300,000 to develop the proposal, it hasn’t won support from GRU. A University System Board of Regents-commissioned study last year ranked the mills campus option least favorable of three options for campus expansion, and a new campus master plan, expected to weigh in on the mills proposal, isn’t complete.
GRU spokeswoman Christen Carter said Monday the master planners “haven’t really delved in and evaluated any of the opportunities, including the Mills district.”
Copenhaver said “it is exciting to me that they have committed to expanding in the urban core” whether or not GRU embraces the mills proposal.
Asked by Guilfoyle if ARC had a backup plan, Kwatinetz said “forget about GRU” and focus on the large available buildings and greenspace located in Augusta’s canal district.
“Or, we could just wait for some developer maybe eventually” to come along, Kwatinetz said. “If it were easy to do, a private developer would have done it already.”
The project, which will generate its own electricity, will return $5 in private dollars for every $1 in SPLOST, he said, in addition to new property taxes and sales taxes generated, for a total of $60 million in “private spend” induced after the ARC Project oversees some $87 million in development of the site, Kwatinetz said.
Also seeking funds Monday was the Development Authority of Richmond County, which needs about $3.8 million to complete an access road into Augusta Corporate Park, where the new Starbucks plant is located, and $850,000 to prepare land for a spec building, according to Executive Director Walter Sprouse.
Augusta Canal Authority Executive Director Dayton Sherrouse touted his agency’s ability to leverage SPLOST dollars to secure state and federal grant funding in several completed projects. The authority is seeking $5.15 million from SPLOST 7 to improve the city-owned canal, expecting the allocation will win the authority $20 million in additional funding.
Augusta’s Downtown Development Authority is seeking $5.6 million to oversee “Augusta Common Phase 2,” an expansion of the downtown greenspace to realign it with the James Brown statue in the Broad Street median and across Reynolds Street to the riverfront levee, DDA board chairman Cameron Nixon said.
DDA Executive Director Margaret Woodard said the agency’s other SPLOST request, $3 million for a downtown business incubator, would generate a $2 million federal grant and give new start-ups, even restaurants, “a ladder program or kiosk space” with affordable rent. “It’s very challenging to find small retail space” downtown, Woodard said.
Among the groups requesting the most in SPLOST funds, Greater Augusta Arts Council wants $16.4 million to complete a public arts master plan, develop studio space and implement a public arts program.
Arts Council Executive Director Brenda Durant detailed the possibilities in a series of slides showing statues and other public art adorning Augusta entry points, bus shelters, transfer stations and benches.