Momentum building for Sand Hills revitalization

 

Momentum is building in the efforts to revitalize Augusta’s historic Sand Hills neighborhood.

The community bordered by Augusta State University and Summerville was recently featured in Historic Augusta’s “This Place Matters” forum, along with the Laney-Walker neighborhood.

For many, a guided tour through Sand Hills was the first exposure to the area’s potential, said Javon Armstrong, a longtime advocate for his childhood neighborhood.

“We had a great group out here. I just don’t want it to get stuck and lose momentum,” he said.

That’s been the challenge of more than a year for Armstrong, who continues to preach his vision of a vibrant, strong Sand Hills to anyone who will listen. He recently caught the attention of Jeanne Cyriaque, the African-American programs coordinator for the Georgia Historic Preservation Division.

Across the state, historic black neighborhoods are disappearing because of redevelopment and neglect, Cyriaque said, and it’s important Sand Hills not succumb to those influences. The grass-roots movement to save Sand Hills is vital to its preservation, she said.

“Sand Hills is headed in the right direction,” Cyriaque said, but she cautioned against expecting a quick turnaround. “Success is something that’s ongoing.”

Paul King, the president of Historic Augusta, agrees that turning around a neglected neighborhood is a decades-long process. He points to Olde Town, which continues to evolve 30 years after the movement started to preserve the east Augusta neighborhood.

“You’ve got to have a vision,” King said.

Sand Hills’ location should make it an attractive place to live. It’s within walking or cycling distance of ASU and only a few miles from the Washington Road corridor and downtown Augusta, King said. Because Sand Hills is on the National Regis­ter of Historic Places, homeowners qualify for federal subsidies to cover a percentage of the renovation of historic homes, he said.

“It can be done,” King said. “The first step is making people aware that’s it there.”
Thelonious Jones is
another recent recruit of Arm­strong’s vision. He grew up in Sand Hills and is just as interested in building community pride as attracting outside investors. Jones is developing an after-school tutoring program and other community events at the Sand Hills Community Center. A sense of belonging and involvement will lead to improving the appearances of Sand Hills, Jones said.

“That’s what we’re trying to establish: pride in the community,” he said.

Armstrong understands that the progress will be slow, but he holds fast to his vision.

“Other folks just don’t see the end goal,” he said. “But I’ve always got a hope.”

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