Downtown revitalization includes history element

Bringing history into a downtown revitalization is nothing new, but the latest plan for Augusta includes a proposal that takes the idea to the next level.

 

It aims to take the city’s history museum to the streets, telling Augusta’s stories through interactive kiosks that people can use when taking walking or biking tours. Signature Design, which works with Cooper Carry – the Atlanta-based landscape architecture firm designing the city’s transportation tax-funded downtown streetscape projects – enlisted the help of the Augusta Museum of History to come up with the proposal.

“Signature came to me and asked to have focus groups at the museum,” said Nancy Glaser, the museum’s executive director.

The groups helped identify key districts and gateways into the city and came up with ideas for what the kiosks might show. They involved Historic Augusta, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art and others.

The plan literally “brings the museum outdoors,” said Therese McKee Huffman of Signature Design. “We were looking at the city and thinking about various districts, looking at them uniquely but also connectively, with the idea of appealing to people who could access them by foot or on bikes.”

The groups identified and named seven key districts – Canal: Historic Trail and Riverwalk; Broad Street: The Promenade; Museums and Attractions; Augusta Legends: Walk of Fame; Medical District: Center for Health and Learning; Laney Walker: African-American History; Greene Street-Telfair Street: Architectural Treasures.

Signature produced a visual theme, incorporating a blossoming magnolia and drawings that show what a gateway could look like, with signage and interactive elements, and how the theme would be carried throughout. Whether those concepts become reality depends on the city’s priorities as it spends Transportation Investment Act funding.

The larger streetscape plan calls for getting rid of the median parking pits on Broad Street and major overhauls of James Brown Boulevard and 13th, Sixth, Telfair, Fifth and Greene streets. It’s expected to cost $83 million, and whether there will be enough to fund the history component is ultimately up to the city, said Gary Warner, of Cooper Carry.

The streetscape plan is meant to work in concert with the “Destination Blueprint” plan put forward by the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which calls for extending the Augusta Common across Reynolds Street and creating defined downtown districts, said Barry White, CVB president.

Both plans take into account what Augustans have said they want, White said, and now it’s time to decide “what we’re willing to support.”

Glaser would be happy to see the history proposal make it through, for “the people who live here and the people who visit. … Even when we’re closed, the history will be out there.”

Huffman pointed out that inviting visitors to have fun while getting to know Augusta is a great way to get them to stay longer, and maybe spend more.

“Communities are looking for ways to celebrate their history and reach people who are not coming to their museums,” she said. “People are likely to spend more time in a city if cultural factors attract them.”

For now, she’s waiting for her phone to ring.

“The next step would be the city gives us a call and says they’re ready to build and install. We would love to get that phone call,” she said. “Right now we’re at the conceptual level. We would like to draw these things up and make it real.”

Staff writer Susan McCord contributed to this story.

Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or james.folker@augustachronicle.com.

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Learn area’s history today

You don’t have to wait to learn about the Augusta area’s history on your own. Several organizations have put together self-guided or guided tours that can be taken on foot or by car, bus or boat.

From Historic Augusta’s website (historicaugusta.org):

• A walking tour of Broad, Greene and Telfair streets (historicaugusta.org/explore-augusta/walking-tours/

It also has information on two key historic homes:

• Boyhood Home of Woodrow Wilson

• Lamar House

From the Convention and Visitors Bureau website (visitaugusta.com):

• Historic Trolley Tour of Augusta: A tour of the Augusta Museum of History is included.

• Black History Trolley Tour: More than 25 black heritage sites and stories told through art, history and everyday lives. Tour of Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History included.

• Civil War Boat Tour: Hourlong “Food, Fabric & Firepower Tour” presents the behind-the-lines story of the Confederate Powder Works and Augusta’s major role in supplying Southern troops during the Civil War.

• Augusta Ghost Trolley Tour: Augusta’s most haunted attractions.

Augusta Canal Heritage Center (augustacanal.com)

• Information on Petersburg Boat tours and a virtual tour of the headgates, the Clearing, pumping station, Olmstead Bulkhead, river levee trail Sibley Mill and Enterprise Mill.

North Augusta Heritage Society (artsandheritagecenter.com)

• Has put together a map for a driving tour of historic sites in the city.

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