Details remain limited, but a new push to honor the legacy of James Brown in Augusta had unanimous support of the Augusta Commission last week.
The plan, which surfaced two weeks ago from Mayor Hardie Davis supported by Commissioner Marion Williams, includes a new exhibit at Augusta Regional Airport, adding Brown features to an ongoing James Brown Boulevard streetscape overhaul and designating approximately 11 city blocks as the James Brown Heritage Trail.
Brown’s daughter Deanna Brown Thomas said she is receptive to the new effort.
“I do hope that it pans out well for the city, as well as for the image of my father, which I don’t expect to be a problem,” she said. “I am open to the ideas they have to pay tribute to Dad.”
Augusta Aviation commissioners got to work Friday and asked Augusta Museum of History Executive Director Nancy Glaser to develop a proposal for creating a Brown exhibit to install at the airport gate. Davis said it may cost $25,000 and the exhibit would join an existing one of Brown’s clothing and albums near the airport entrance.
The other tribute items aren’t as easily defined. Commissioners said they knew few details about the proposals besides what has been discussed at commission meetings the last two weeks. Davis didn’t respond to a request for information last week.
Commissioner Bill Fennoy said his only issue with either was the condition of city-owned property along the streetscape and corridor, and clearing the properties was added to both motions approved Tuesday.
The streetscape project, a Georgia Department of Transportation grant-funded overhaul along James Brown Boulevard between Laney-Walker Boulevard and Twiggs Circle, would start where the heritage trail ends and would add to the job Augusta’s Downtown Development Authority awarded to Cranston Engineering.
The agenda item said “painted record images” but Williams said to envision something larger, such as reflective gold-painted albums in the sidewalk.
The DDA, Greater Augusta Arts Council and Augusta Housing and Community Development were charged with reporting back in 30 days on how to proceed, including how to fund it.
Art on streetscapes isn’t necessarily eligible for GDOT grants, but other public art grants are available, DDA Director Margaret Woodard previously told commissioners.
Housing and Community Development, which is redeveloping the historically black neighborhood around the streetscape area, is eager to complement its work with a James Brown Boulevard “gateway” into the district, Director Hawthorne Welcher said.
The area will “thrive on the importance of James Brown and other area historic trailblazers through creative place-making sculptures and art projects that contribute to the livability of the communities,” Welcher said.
The heritage trail, designated as the area between Eighth Street and James Brown Boulevard between Laney-Walker Boulevard to the south and Reynolds Street to the north, near the river, takes in the city’s Dyess Park, Augusta Common and the statue of Brown on Broad Street .
Much of the trail area is included in another ongoing streetscape project funded by the Transportation Investment Act, but plans presented so far have varied in their treatment of Brown. A related effort involving the same consultants to redesign the statue area was designed but never funded last year.
Davis said he’d learned since moving to Augusta in 1985 about Brown’s ties to the trail area, including time he spent at the former Red Star Hotel and Café.
Williams said historically the area was where black businesses could thrive and was the only place visiting African-American performers were allowed to stay.
“There’s a lot of rich heritage, a lot of history that’s there that we have forgotten about and really thrown out the window,” Williams said.
Designating a heritage trail will make the area eligible for educational and other grants, Davis told commissioners. It will complement an existing James Brown trolley tour and create more tourism opportunities, he said.
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.