Changes, visible and invisible, await visitors returning to Augusta

Many Augusta traditions never change, but returning visitors will notice a few subtle differences – and some major developments in the works – in the town that surrounds Augusta National Golf Club.

 

Since last year’s tournament, Gov. Nathan Deal announced the state is building the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center on the Savannah riverfront in downtown Augusta. The $50 million investment – slated to open next year – complements the ongoing arrival at Fort Gordon of the Army Cyber Command for which construction began in November on a 324,000-square-foot-facility.

Much closer to the club, visitors will notice a visible change in the landscape with the $5.35 million sale this fall of Jay’s Music Center, which since 1992 stood at the corner of Washington Road and Old Berckmans roads.

The sale followed the realignment of Berckmans Road with Alexander Drive a few blocks west in 2015, which visitors experienced for the first time last Masters Week. Jay’s has since relocated two miles west on Washington Road.

Tourists converging on the Washington Road area will note another loss with the February closure of Augusta’s first Whole Foods Market. The grocery store, which featured an outdoor putting green, opened in the fall of 2015 and was around only for last year’s tournament.

Augusta also lost an aging Kroger on 15th Street downtown, but the area in September gained a 123,000-square-foot Kroger Marketplace in Grovetown to capitalize on growth at Fort Gordon as Cyber Command brings an estimated 5,000 associated jobs to the region.

The area gained a handful of new elected leaders in November, including a new Richmond County marshal, Ramone Lamkin, who heads Augusta’s airport police, civil service and ordinance enforcement. Last month, the Augusta Commission adopted a set of strategies to improve property maintenance throughout the city.

At Augusta Regional Airport, visitors will encounter several new additions including the “PAL” program, for passenger-assistance liaisons, who help passengers with luggage, directions and other needs. The flags of all nations with tournament players are now also greeting arriving passengers as they disembark at the airport.

Those arriving at Daniel Field Airport will encounter a $1 million upgrade of the city airport’s historic hangar doors. Deal in October plugged the regional sales tax called the Transportation Investment Act that funded the doors, the Berckmans realignment and the many other road and bridge projects underway across the region for the last three years.

Fortunately for visitors, construction on all of those projects – including the extension of River Watch Parkway across Columbia County and upgrades on Calhoun Expressway and other major roads – are on hold during Masters Week, according to Kyle Collins, District 2 Communications Specialist for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

That includes nearly-completed upgrades of Augusta’s historic Archibald W. Butt Bridge on 15th Street, which was reopened as one of Augusta’s Masters traffic routes Friday. The 1914 bridge was dedicated by President William Howard Taft to his friend Archibald Butt, who died aboard the Titanic in 1912, and has been closed was closed since August for a $2 million renovation.

Visitors who venture to downtown Augusta can experience the city’s first two microbreweries, RiverWatch Brewery and Savannah River Brewing Company, both of which opened since last year’s tournament.

Those motorists traveling by night on River Watch and John C. Calhoun Expressway will see hundreds of coordinated streetlamps have been installed since last year’s tournament.

 

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com

 

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