While it has seen little more than an acknowledgement by Georgia Regents University officials, the city of Augusta has proposed a vast plan to develop the GRU campus into one of the world’s “most iconic, beautiful and innovative,” according to project documents.
The plan, presented to the GRU President Ricardo Azziz’s cabinet March 25, calls for a partnership of the city, University System Board of Regents and private industry to develop numerous facilities across Augusta’s urban core, many using existing buildings.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the city’s proposal was its offer of the historic Sibley and King mills – about 1 million square feet on 50 acres – for the campus expansion expected as Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University are consolidated into GRU.
A map of the “urban core district potential” shows the new campus growing along Augusta Canal from existing GRU holdings south of the canal to the Savannah River, taking in the mills and several other properties.
The proposal also calls for GRU to acquire several blocks east of 13th Street between the canal’s second level and the riverfront subdivision Rivers Edge.
The “mills campus,” complete with the mills’ existing hydroelectric capacity, would be the first of its kind, according to the proposal.
Outcomes for Harrisburg, the blighted area that housed mill workers for decades, are “safety, education and health,” and capitalize on existing recent investment – Richmond County Board of Education’s new $10 million school and the $90 million Kroc Center.
The plans don’t stop there: The mills campus is one of four “catalytic anchors” girding a plan supporters say could double the population and cut unemployment and commercial vacancies in half in the city’s urban core.
Another anchor is the proposed “downtown cultural grad school” scattered through existing buildings east of the mills along Broad and Reynolds streets, to include a graduate program in urban redevelopment, art space to house numerous artists in residence and several theaters, including a new performing arts center on city-owned riverfront property at Fifth and Reynolds streets.
The proposal was developed for the city by Matthew Kwatinetz, the executive director of the Augusta Regional Collaboration Project, an entity created by Mayor Deke Copenhaver last year with city and private funds. Kwatinetz came from the real estate consulting firm that selected Augusta for Starbucks’ new soluble products plant under construction.
The plan’s biggest cheerleaders have been Copenhaver and commissioners Mary Davis and Donnie Smith, who were part of the delegation that presented the proposal to Azziz’s cabinet, but officials say the proposal has full support of the 10-member commission and Augusta Canal Authority, which owns the mills and manages the national heritage area around
Though the mayor and commissioners say their proposal was well-received, there has been little response from Azziz or the University System Board of Regents, besides a campus letter from Azziz complimenting the city’s commitment to the success of the consolidated university.
“My team and I greatly appreciate the kind words and compelling vision of our Mayor and of our commission, and look forward to future dialogue about these ideas and many others as we move to expand our academic offerings, campus experiences, and eventually, our footprint,” Azziz wrote. “We have informed the USG staff about the city’s proposal and we will make every effort to keep you informed if and when plans progress.”