The future of the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods depends on a single key factor: a city working together.
An expert panel commissioned by the American Institute of Architects to develop a sustainability program for the city’s massive revitalization project for the area said city leaders, project managers, residents, church leaders and nonprofit groups must collaborate better than they do now.
“That will communicate this is not a particular group’s project. It is Augusta’s project,” said Don Edwards, a panel member and the CEO of Justice and Sustainability Associates. “If we can’t deliver this project, that message of not achieving that opportunity will reverberate around Augusta not being able to collaborate.”
Augusta is one of seven cities to receive a $15,000 grant from the institute for the sustainability program.
At a community meeting Wednesday night, about 30 people heard the panel’s recommendations, which were developed after two prior meetings.
The panel agreed that the project is necessary for bringing people back into the city’s urban core, a trend seen nationally. The area has potential to attract new markets, retail and residents.
The panel recommended that the plan’s urban design include a community park surrounded by retail space on Laney-Walker Boulevard, a canal walk and a transit and walking trail along R.A. Dent Boulevard.
In 2008, the city began a revitalization initiative in Laney-Walker and Bethlehem to replace blight with development.
A special 50-year hotel/motel tax that generates $750,000 a year funds the $38.5 million public investment.
For more than 400 vacant homes in poor condition, the panel suggested “deconstructing” rather than demolishing the homes.
Deconstructing homes means using sustainable techniques such
as selling scrap materials and then using vacant land to generate business, such as a landscape company or nursery.
Deconstructing the homes allows economic growth while planning for future housing, the panel said.
None of the recommendations have been adopted for implementation.