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Augusta mayor 'excited' about mill district proposal

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A day after a secret proposal to convert sections of Augusta’s mill district and downtown into campus expansion space for Georgia Re­gents University, Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he felt a sense of relief.

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“I’ve been so excited about this,” he said. “For seven years, I’ve tried to find some sort of project that could really get the entire community excited, and I feel like this really does that.”

Revealed on Wednesday, the Au­gusta Regional Colla­bor­ation Project’s proposal calls for renovating two historic 500,000-square-foot textile mills into student housing and educational space for a “mills campus” on 50 acres, plus developing a “cultural campus” spread across several buildings downtown, including a new riverfront performing arts center.

Copen­haver, who founded the project last year with public and private funding, said the project remains in infancy, with no developed cost estimates, funding mechanism or approval from the university system.

Many at the state level have already been apprised of the plans, he said.

“I’ve met with the chancellor twice,” he said. “The governor has been briefed. But obviously there’s still a long way to go, with building a financing model, putting project costs on something concrete with numbers to put before the regents.”

Dayton Sherrouse, the executive director of the Augusta Canal Authority, said the proposal to restore Sibley and King mills had the full support of the authority, as long as the historic structures are maintained.

“This proposal is very consistent with our long-range goals on a variety of fronts,” Sherrouse said, because it addresses the authority’s long-term goals of preservation, conservation, education and economic development.

Sherrouse said he’d already given tours to 10 to 12 groups of university officials, engineers, architects, estimators and others before the proposal’s release.

The authority, which can issue bonds, oversaw the successful restoration of Enterprise Mill – less than half the size of Sibley and King – in 1993 after it sat vacant for years.

Matt Kwatinetz came to Augusta as part of the site selection team for the new Star­bucks plant under construction but recently was hired as executive director of the mill project. He’ll be part of the team persuading the regents that the project is worthwhile.

“The theory is that it would grow top-line revenue and that net-net, they would be spending less,” Kwatinetz said.

According to a presentation by city officials Monday to GRU President Ricardo Azziz’s Cabinet, the project would be a public-private partnership involving local, state and private resources, but would be city-owned.

It would leverage about $250 million in ongoing city infrastructure investment, including $62 million in transportation sales tax funds dedicated to improvements on Broad and 15th streets, the $90 million Kroc Center that sits in the mill district and Augusta’s $37 million contribution of hotel-motel tax money to the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem redevelopment projects.

Five Augusta Commission members who attended Monday’s meeting with Azziz had only enthusiasm for the proposal, but District 1 Com­mis­sioner Bill Fennoy reminded them that the city has many other infrastructure needs.

“We have just agreed to spend $41 million in renovations for the municipal buil­ding, but we’ve got infrastructure issues that are being overlooked and they have not been addressed in a timely manner,” Fennoy said. He has a meeting planned with residents of Harrisburg, the former mill village, to get their feedback.

Commissioner Bill Lock­ett said the proposal likely would benefit Augusta-Richmond County as a whole and served as a show of support for the consolidation of Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University, which many have resisted.

“I think the community really went overboard with this ‘Save the A,’ ” Lockett said. “They would have to come to the realization that $1.5 billion pumped into this community is worth more than just a name.”

Commissioner Grady Smith, who serves on the Augus­ta State University board of trustees, was enthusiastic.

“When you have these kinds of talks going on, what it means for the future is jobs, jobs, jobs, and that’s what we need in this area,” he said. “Let’s show the Board of Regents and Dr. Azziz and all of them, I know we’ve had some disagreements, but let’s all pull together and talk positive. It’ll really be a plus for years to come.”

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triscuit
3219
Points
triscuit 03/28/13 - 08:17 pm
3
2
Any bets that local

Any bets that local engineers, architects, and estimators were NOT local?.

Little Lamb
47908
Points
Little Lamb 03/28/13 - 09:52 pm
3
3
Drugs

From the story:

Commissioner Grady Smith, who serves on the Augus­ta State University board of trustees, was enthusiastic. . . . “Let’s show the Board of Regents and Dr. Azziz and all of them, I know we’ve had some disagreements, but let’s all pull together and talk positive. It’ll really be a plus for years to come.”

It must be the meds talking.

Sigh

Little Lamb
47908
Points
Little Lamb 03/28/13 - 09:56 pm
8
3
Save the A

From the story:

“I think the community really went overboard with this ‘Save the A,’ ” Lockett said. “They would have to come to the realization that $1.5 billion pumped into this community is worth more than just a name.”

This man can be led around with a collar.

GnipGnop
12692
Points
GnipGnop 03/28/13 - 10:42 pm
9
2
A collar?

Or a dollar? Deke is nothing more than a lap dog to Aziz. He has kissed his behind from the beginning.

countyman
21283
Points
countyman 03/28/13 - 11:47 pm
4
6
Wow!

I can see the Savannah River(pedestrian walkway under Riverwatch), and space for development between the two mills(restaurants, coffee shops, retail, etc) in the rendering. Love all of the existing green space located right next to the Kroc Center.

nocnoc
47038
Points
nocnoc 03/29/13 - 05:23 am
4
2
Any bets

That we have a Mirror image of the problem GA. Tech has with
Thugs in the area and students being robbed of Smart Phones and Laptops?

How about the land on Kendrick Pl?
Who owns that and what are the plans?

Noticed on GIS that the prices jumps from $18k to $90+K before they were purchased some 2 years back?

...point to ponder
779
Points
...point to ponder 03/29/13 - 06:33 am
4
2
The Mayor is excited...

Now maybe the Board of Regents will transfer ownership of the former Golf of Fame property to Augusta so the baseball stadium can finally be built on the Ga side of the Savannah River where it belongs.

GHSU/ GRU/ the Medical Colllege of Ga certainly won't have a need for it now.

...point to ponder
779
Points
...point to ponder 03/29/13 - 06:58 am
4
1
What's in a name?

I'm sure when Dr . Azziz promotes changing the name of a portion of Laney Walker to GRU Blvd that Commissioner Lockett's attitude on this subject change. Lockett may have to come realize that several tens of millions of dollars is worth more than just a name.

boblamb
4
Points
boblamb 03/29/13 - 08:22 am
2
5
Mill District Prooposal

This is a fabulous idea! All Augustans should get behind it and push.

jamc1103
141
Points
jamc1103 03/29/13 - 08:37 am
5
0
Hopefully they will throw the old school....

that sits across broad street in with this proposal. It is an eye sore with all the fences they have put up around it to keep people out. I think it is Martha-Lester.

Riverman1
90290
Points
Riverman1 03/29/13 - 08:46 am
5
2
The more land that can be

The more land that can be given to the college to be utilized, maintained and policed by the state, the better for Augusta.

AugustaProf
138
Points
AugustaProf 03/29/13 - 09:01 am
5
0
Trains?

Am I wrong in thinking that one of Augusta's busiest rail lines bisects these two mills? I haven't heard any talk of this, but can we assume that these tracks are rerouted to run behind the mills (paralleling River Watch)? Even with this, I'm afraid that the noise might be a little disturbing for the residents if trains are allowed to run on these tracks at all hours of the night as they are currently.

Regardless, the potential for this project to transform both downtown and the University is tremendous. Hopefully they can work out the safety issues and perhaps find a way to bridge the two downtown campuses, as foot traffic over the 15th Street Bridge is not an option. This is a really exciting way to create a large, beautiful, historical-but-modern, contiguous campus into which GRU could grow into something really special. I'm stoked.

nocnoc
47038
Points
nocnoc 03/29/13 - 09:18 am
5
1
An ARC loses

Land and any hope of Property Taxes and jobs if sold to a commercial or private owner developer.

Another great "Lets improve DOWNTOWN", project that will have eventually everyone facing another Tax Increase to offset the BONDS and/or other related loses.

Maybe Downtown will be upfront about the projected loses this time....

NAAAAAA.

Island Man
30
Points
Island Man 03/29/13 - 09:31 am
2
1
Great Idea

Finally an on-target idea. Augusta needs to focus on "heritage" and historic things and this idea does that. How about redirect the $50 mil. renovation of the unsightly marble palace and use those monies for part of a mill renovation that will be occupied by city/court departments. Mr Copenhaver, "tear down that ugly modern looking marble monstrosity" and turn it into a nice downtown park. Spend that money on the new historical building concepts.

Sweet son
11072
Points
Sweet son 03/29/13 - 10:55 am
1
1
"mills campus?"

Please work on naming each one of the GRU campuses with something permanent so that the public won't have to guess which one is being described in news stories etc. If all of the schools were contiguous if would be different.

Fiat_Lux
16200
Points
Fiat_Lux 03/29/13 - 11:04 am
2
1
This needs a lot more thought and not as much emotion

Nocnoc needs to be on whatever committee ends up actually having some authority regarding this huuuge decision.

It's all very well to get excited about having ASU/MCG take over the dominant position and role in what Augusta is, but I don't think it really offers so much economic benefit to the county as it would enhance the "coolness" factor. It would benefit New U, with perhaps some uptick in businesses that will do the renovations (if they pick locals to do it) and in catering to students who MIGHT come in the future.

It won't mean noticeably more jobs and a better standard of living for the people who currently live in these areas anymore than the Kroc Center has done that. It merely will move in a "better class" of residents and shuffle the current residents to the south and west areas of the county, just as knocking down the projects around MCG has done.

Fiat_Lux
16200
Points
Fiat_Lux 03/29/13 - 11:11 am
2
1
And if they really want the community fully behind this,

change the name to the University of Augusta.

And @ LL, your comments from last night caused people to come find out why I was laughing so loud. Are you practicing?

countyman
21283
Points
countyman 03/29/13 - 04:17 pm
1
1
Misinformation

A good number of the residents living Gilbert Manor moved into Olmstead Homes.

Fiatlux is the first person to mention West Augusta, but the same people usually bring up South Augusta.

In terms of the city of Augusta demolishing the housing projects.

Why do people think the residents don't go to other housing projects?
Why do people think none of the resident move into East Augusta?
Why do people think Richmond County has enough public housing or section 8 to handle of all the residents?

Fiat_Lux
16200
Points
Fiat_Lux 03/29/13 - 06:35 pm
1
0
@ countyman

The housing projects in Richmond Co are disappearing and section 8 housing is increasing, that's why.

I don't believe Harrisburg residents will move away just because New U puts students in beautiful dorms in their neighborhood. Why would they? Perhaps some would if their bungalows became worth a lot if sold, and there are many other modest neighborhood around the county they could move to. It just seems unlikely that Harrisburg will change much for a very long time, if ever. And students living in that area will be targets.

Again, in terms of Savannah, SCAD hasn't really had that much impact on the increasing the size of the desirable residential area in historic district. The area of indigence/gangs/crime/violence that rings the historic district may have been been pushed ever so slightly southward and perhaps a tad to the east and the west, but not much. And the people from that area target people in the historic district all. the. time.

I love the idea of something beautiful on the canal, of using those buildings and that area once more, but I just can't figure out why people might think Augusta would do any better than Savannah and other places with similar issue have.

Little Lamb
47908
Points
Little Lamb 03/29/13 - 08:29 pm
0
0
Board of Trusees

From the story:

Commissioner Grady Smith, who serves on the Augus­ta State University board of trustees. . . .

Please tell me that when they merged the universities, they didn't just merge the two boards of trustees and kept all the members in a mega-board. Commissioner Smith belongs on the board of Grooo like Marion Williams belongs in a monastery.

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