Mills District proposal will be considered in GRU master planning

The historic Sibley Mill is under consideration to be restored and converted into educational and housing space for the expansion of the Georgia Regents University campus.

 

The University System of Georgia hasn’t embraced Augusta’s plans for a mills and cultural campus to support the expansion of Georgia Regents University, but supporters remain optimistic it will.

According to a Sept. 17 letter from Chancellor Hank Huckaby released Monday by Mayor Deke Copenhaver, the system supports the development of a consolidated GRU campus centered on the health sciences campus, which will have “positive impact” on downtown Augusta and the riverfront.

A study by planning consultants Sasaki Associates, however, “did not recommend incorporating the Mills District” into the GRU campus, and Huckaby and Georgia Regents University President Ricardo Azziz agreed, Huckaby wrote.

Last year, Copenhaver and the Augusta Commission revealed plans, months in development, to renovate two historic textile mills in the adjacent Harrisburg mill district to become support buildings for the newly consolidated university.

Spearheaded by the mayor’s Augusta Regional Collaboration Project, the plans also included a “cultural campus” scattered across existing downtown buildings, which the project director, Matthew Kwatinetz, last week termed an “arts and innovation campus.”

Commission members have since authorized $300,000 for the project to develop the extensive proposals, and an additional $100,000 to renovate a historic building in the Broad Street median downtown to serve as project headquarters and an incubator for the downtown arts and innovation community.

Although the University System hasn’t embraced the proposals and merely reasserts its plans to expand in an area adjacent to them, Huckaby said they “do have potential” to be “an important element in GRU’s future.”

For that reason, he said, the system has agreed to consider, in a comprehensive GRU master plan under development, “a broad range of opportunities, including the viability of incorporating the Mills District into the future campus development of GRU.”

Copenhaver viewed Huckaby’s overall response as positive, despite his unwillingness to commit to the mills proposal, and placed hope in the new master plan’s incorporating the mills early next year, the mayor said in an e-mail to the commission last week.

“This would allow us to help them create the next great American university,” Copenhaver said. “We are confident with further planning, GRU will come to the conclusion that the ideas that we have proposed are faster, cheaper and better than any other plan that we have seen so far.”

Copenhaver, who has made the campus development a priority of his final year in office, said Monday that he had met with Huckaby several times since the Sasaki study and believed the system desires to “work with the city in moving forward” with expansion plans.

“It’s positive overall, extremely positive that they are looking to focus on developing a consolidated campus in the urban core,” the mayor said. “That, to me, is the major point to take away. The mills will be part of what they look at in the master planning process.”

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