Mayors talk of cooperation in growth forum

The mayors of Augusta, North Augusta and Aiken see the growth that each is experiencing as a boon for the entire area.

 

“I don’t know that growth recognizes a boundary. Growth will occur where there’s opportunity,” North Augusta’s Bob Pettit said Thursday night during a forum on growth sponsored by the CSRA chapter of the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering International.

All three cities expect to benefit from the coming cyber boom around Fort Gordon and downtown Augusta. All are trying to attract millennials, they share the same federal transportation region, and Augusta and North Augusta are united on rehabilitating the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, not replacing it with a rock weir.

“I think we all learned a long time ago that if we approach this from a regional standpoint, the success of one of our municipalities certainly affects in a positive way the others,” Aiken’s Rick Osbon said.

Augusta is moving toward becoming an economy of innovation and technology, said Mayor Hardie Davis. People already know the region for medicine, manufacturing and the military, he said, and cyber will build on that.

“Instead of having a smokestack and 100,000 square feet of space, all you really need is a smart device,” Davis said. “I think that’s the kind of economy we want to create and grow.”

Breaking ground on the $60 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center is a big step in that direction, Davis said.

Davis talked about connecting “the rest of Augusta with all the great things going on downtown,” by developing south Augusta through his “SoGo” – south of Gordon Highway from downtown to Fort Gordon’s Gate 1 – initiative, and resurrecting Regency Mall as a new entertainment complex.

There is competition among the cities but it’s friendly, he said, and doesn’t deter a willingness to collaborate.

Osbon said he thought people would look back in 20 years and see that an economic legacy was created through “the synergy of the region.” He pointed out that when a big company comes to Augusta, his planners start researching companies that dovetail with it, hoping to lure one of them.

Pettit spun a scenario that imagined a young person who lives in North Augusta’s Riverside Village, works in Augusta and dines, drinks and plays in both.

The border between two towns and two states means nothing to him, Pettit said.

“People make their own life choices,” Davis said.

The 13th Street Bridge – also known as the Georgia Avenue Bridge – is expected to be replaced beginning in 2021 and will include bicycle and pedestrian lanes, Pettit said. He wondered if a water taxi between the two cities would happen, and Davis said he thought it would.

The centerpiece of North Augusta’s $220 million Riverside Village is a new ballpark for the Augusta GreenJackets.

 

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

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