Taking shape

Work begins on projects in Master Plan

Kroc Center. Check.

Augusta Judicial Center. Check.

TEE Center. Check.

Major pieces of the downtown Augusta and North Augusta master plan, now a year old, are under way , but much of the implementation of the 20-year master plan is still largely a behind-the-scenes endeavor.

“A lot of good things are happening, and a lot of good people are involved,” said Dennis Skelley,  the  president of Augusta Tomorrow, which spearheaded the plan’s development and implementation. “Next year, we’ll have even more to report.”

Skelley said the 200-page plan isn’t sitting on a shelf. Imp­lementation teams have been working on the plan’s  ideas  since the summer.
The plan focuses on nine “market creation districts” that could revitalize neighborhoods in both cities.

The districts are clusters of projects that would create a destination attraction and be a catalyst for other development.

“It is a long- range plan,” said John Shields, one of the writers of the plan. “The trick now is to find the pieces that they can get done early to keep momentum going.”

Shields, who is developing a second master plan that involves the rest of Richmond County, said he is pleased about how the cities are moving on  the first plan.

“I think they are following the recommendations rather closely,” Shields said. “It has gone well in the point of view of volun­teer efforts … I wish the city would figure out a way to staff the implementation of this.”

Augusta Tomorrow spent $275,000 on the plan. The Augusta Comm­ission chipped in $95,000 of that  North Augusta gave $31,000.

 The Boston  consulting firm ICON Architecture Inc. conceived of an estimated $1.5 billion in potential development projects for Augusta and North Augusta. Many of the projects involve development along the river and the Augusta Canal as resources that have been under used.

North Augusta has been busy buying land, said Mayor Lark Jones. The city acquired property near the bridge on U.S. Highway 1  for $1 million.

That land was identified in the master plan as being part of a residential-commercial development with  a pedestrian bridge spanning the river.

“Now we’re looking for a buyer, or someone to develop it in accordance with the master plan,” Jones said. “There are still some properties down there that we don’t own or control. We’re hoping that capitalism and free enterprise … will take over if we can get somebody to put a hotel right down there on the river .”

 Harrisburg’ s master plan team is forming a non profit corporation to promote home ownership, said Clay Boardman, the  chairman of the Harrisburg team for Augusta Tomorrow.

“(It) will involve engaging hundreds of volunteers to assist in new construction and rehabilitation of existing housing stock,” Boardman said. “Our first house to rehab is already in our hands with the prospect of many more in the near future.”

Residential development is one of the key ideas for Harris­burg, especially along the canal.

The $100 million Salvation Army Kroc Center is expected to  be a catalyst for nearby small businesses , Skelley said.

He  said members of Augusta Tomorrow have  met the local legislative delegation.

“We will probably need assistance from the state for the ability to be able to infuse the kind of capital that would be required to do something that grandiose,” he said.

The state was able to help the city of Sav­an­nah with its river front projects, he said, so assistance for Augusta in terms of grants and earmarks should be doable.

“Timing is everything , and right now the state is not real flush. I wouldn’t look to see too much opportunity in this budget cycle,” Skelley said.

WESTOBOU RIVER CROSSING


The big idea: Tie Augusta and North Augusta together with a waterfront development spanning the Savannah River; turn the Fifth Street bridge into a pedestrian bridge; install fishing center at Hamburg Brick Pond.

Cost: $90 million private, $25 million public

The latest:

- North Augusta purchased property along the Savannah River for $1 million and is now seeking developers.
- Improvement completed to Gordon Highway interchange

HARRISBURG CANAL VILLAGE


The big idea: Give Harrisburg a new image and identity with a mixed-use retail center; build residential units along the First Level Canal

Cost: $100 million private, $25 million public

The latest:

- Construction is under way for the $100 million Salvation Army Kroc Center.
- The implementation team is starting a nonprofit corporation to rehabilitate houses.

WESTOBOU ARTS CENTER


The big idea: Redevelop vacant riverfront land into an arts and entertainment center

Cost: $80 million private, $30 million public

The latest:

- Development of the TEE Center has resumed.
- Hyatt Place hotel is back in the design phase.
- Restoration of the Miller Theatre is under examination by consultants.

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