Mayor Deke Copenhaver gets a good feeling when driving down Reynolds Street. A nearly complete parking garage set to open next month across the street from the under-construction Trade, Exhibition and Event Center is bringing a fresh face to the downtown thoroughfare.
“What you’re seeing is a physical transformation of Reynolds Street,” the mayor said. “When you drive down Reynolds Street, you get a completely different feel than you used to.”
Yet, a potential facelift for Reynolds Street driven by public and private investment is being marred by past projects that have so far failed to live up to expectations or fallen through.
At the site of the former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame and Gardens, overgrown weeds cover a 17.5-acre plot stretching from 11th to 13th streets. According to Copenhaver, the state currently controls the land and is responsible for landscape maintenance. The city once tried to take over landscape duties but the option wasn’t financially feasible for land it doesn’t own, he said.
Across the street from the Golf and Gardens, five reflecting pools at the Springfield Village Park have been waterless for several months. Beverage containers, food boxes and used clothing litter planting beds and a bench-lined concrete pathway.
The Springfield Village Park Foundation, a private entity, has been looking at new options to lift the park’s appearance in the long run, said Monty Osteen, one of the park foundation directors.
“They have become problematic in terms of keeping them watered and keeping them clean,” Osteen said.
A high water table on the property caused undue pressure on the concrete pools, spurring leaks. Additionally, trash thrown into the pools by pedestrians, many of whom are unwanted skateboarders, clogged the filter system, he said.
The foundation has been exploring filling the pools with dirt planting beds. The park was dedicated in 2002 with the unveiling of a 40-foot art sculpture, but phase one will not be complete until marble-and-granite black history plaques are installed, Osteen said.
Another local developer and investor, Clay Boardman, said he’s disappointed the park is not better maintained to attract visitors.
“That’s another great amenity for the beautification of Reynolds Street, yet it’s in disrepair,” he said. “I’ve never seen anybody walking through it. It’s not getting used.”
At the opposite end of Reynolds Street, near the Fifth Street bridge, a 6-acre dirt lot and old railroad Depot stand empty while the city tries to settle on a Realtor to list the property, according to City Administrator Fred Russell.
“We want to make sure we sell it to somebody who does something conducive with our plans for downtown,” Russell said.
Some forward motion was made last week to redevelop two properties on the commercial market along Reynolds Street, the city’s closest traffic artery to the riverfront, which city planners claim to be an untapped resource for development and tourism.
On Tuesday, the former-site of the WJBF studio at 10th and Reynolds streets was bought by a local partnership for $700,000. Officials from TelPark Partners LLC said they are exploring options to redevelop the property, potentially razing the 15,000-square-foot building near the TEE Center.
Another riverfront property, the 125,000-square-foot Fort Discovery building, was placed under contract last week. The potential buyer will not be released for about another month, when the sale is expected to close, said Dennis Trotter of Meybohm Commercial Real Estate.
Cortland Dusseau, a private investor in hotel properties, said plans are still on the table for a $19 million Hyatt Place on Reynolds at Ninth Street. Financing the seven-story hotel has been difficult, but the Augusta location is still an enticing market, Dusseau said.
Before his mayoral term ends in 2014, Copenhaver doubts progress will be made to develop the former Golf and Gardens or the Depot, two sites he called “anchors to the riverfront.”
Those two properties along with a privately-owned parcel across from the Augusta Commons were proposed in the Westobou Shared Vision Augusta/North Augusta 2009 Master Plan for future development of retail stores, residential buildings and an arts center. The TEE Center was the first project to come to fruition on Reynolds Street from the master plan.
While progress is being made, there are still areas that need improvement, said Camille Price, director of Augusta Tomorrow.
Development of the Golf and Gardens site and the Depot are critical to development of the city’s urban core, Price said. Reynolds Street was targeted in the master plan because it connects the valuable riverfront land with the rest of the city, she said.
The future of Reynolds Street could rest on moving the Golf and Gardens and Depot properties from government hands to private investors, said Boardman.
“The only way something’s going to happen is if they sell them,” he said.
Boardman thinks private development on Reynolds Street is a wise investment that can only help improve the street’s appearance.
“There are good things going on near Reynolds Street. There’s real good traction in that area right now,” he said. “It’s such a destination already and will be a greater destination we are hoping.”