On Thursday, more than 30 employees from the new Starbucks soluble facility volunteered to renovate the city-owned I.M. Pei building on the 600 block, which was built in the early 1970s and vacated by the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce in 2009.
The group painted walls, prepped floors, stained base boards on the bottom floor and upstairs atrium in preparation for more permanent tenants that have yet to be determined.
“While it doesn’t look completed, we’re still using it,” said Stephanie Senn, who was recently brought on board as a volunteer for the ARC Project. “We want to use it as much as we can. Now is the time to get this going, especially for what ARC’s trying to do, which is to get this area showcased as a cultural and arts district.”
Senn said a group of Georgia Regents University students were the latest to occupy the space last week for an art show.
The idea to turn the former chamber building into an arts and cultural hub came about last October when ARC Project executive director Matthew Kwatinetz announced plans to create a “co-working” collaboration and cafe space. To date, about $100,000 in city funds have been used to improve the building’s infrastructure, such as repairing the roof, abating asbestos and removing mold from the property, said Al Dallas, executive assistant to Mayor Deke Copenhaver.
The long-term plan for the center is to provide community space and serve as an incubator environment for businesses and nonprofit organizations. Entities paying rent would help make the facility self-sustaining, Dallas said.
“Back six months ago, it was going to be a jazz bar,” Dallas said. “It was going to be a coffee shop. Those are all possibilities, but we want to find something that’s reflective of what the community wants.”
Senn said they’re in the process of getting input from local musicians, artists and community-based nonprofits.
The ARC Project is leasing the building from the city for five years.
Starbucks also has given a $200,000 contribution to help fund the ARC Project.