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Top stories of 2013: Downtown aims to rebound

Attack prompted call for change at Riverwalk Augusta

Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013 8:25 PM
Last updated Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 10:43 AM
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 It was a rough year for downtown Augusta, but things could be looking up.

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A May 3 attack on a couple at Riverwalk Augusta spurred talks about safety on the riverfront and in downtown as a whole. The word "slum" also caused controversy downtown this year.  TODD BENNETT/FILE
TODD BENNETT/FILE
A May 3 attack on a couple at Riverwalk Augusta spurred talks about safety on the riverfront and in downtown as a whole. The word "slum" also caused controversy downtown this year.

Concerns about safety in the city’s third most popular tourist destination reached a frenzy after the May 3 beating of a young South Carolina couple enjoying a moonlit night at Riverwalk Augusta.

The baseball bat attack left Wesley Spires and Ashley Solesbee with serious head and facial injuries, and Spires had to undergo weeks of rehabilitation before he was released home to Edge­field, S.C.

Six months later, Spires said he was “all healed up” and hadn’t turned away from downtown Augusta, while the couple, on their third date May 3, remains together. The attack suspects are in jail awaiting trial.

The attack spurred a call for improvements at the riverwalk, which adjoins the Augusta Con­vention Center. The riverwalk was observed by Augusta Com­mission members to be in disrepair, including overgrown shrubbery and trees and numerous broken lights.

The attack also triggered Sher­iff Richard Roundtree’s effort to increase security downtown, particularly on First Friday nights, which attract the most visitors.

Roundtree, who had already committed six bicycle, foot or motor deputies downtown, proposed installing security cameras and creating a new Con­tin­uously Patrolled District to fund even more dedicated patrols using a special downtown tax. The proposal failed to win support from property owners, and Roundtree recently said he did not expect sufficient support to implement the program.

As the sheriff and city recreation department searched for funds to repair the riverwalk and enhance security downtown, the area took another hit with City Admin­is­trator Fred Russell’s proposal to designate the 600-acre downtown Central Business District as a “slum” to borrow money at reduced rates.

Commissioners, who learned of the proposal when it appeared on a meeting agenda, immediately questioned the plan and whether the area truly had the health hazards, dilapidation and other characteristics cited in documents prepared by special bond counsel Jim Plunkett.

“I wouldn’t describe it as a slum,” Commissioner Bill Fennoy said in September.

Some commissioners cited not being kept informed about the “slum” proposal and other large city projects as reasons for their votes to fire Russell on Dec. 9.

Earlier this month, the commission approved a scaled-back version of the plan that avoids the disparaging language and limits the district to the Municipal Building complex, the former main library, a city-owned riverfront railroad depot, James Brown Arena, Bell Audi­torium and Port Royal, the riverfront high-rise condominium complex.

Adopting the plan allows the city to issue up to $28.5 million in tax-exempt bonds to fund renovations and a new Information Technology building at the 530 Greene St. government complex.

Augusta’s Downtown De­velop­ment Authority, largely silent during the year’s downtown news, emerged as an active player when the commission voted Dec. 17 to work with the authority and the Augusta Regional Colla­bo­ration Project on financing “Discovery Plaza” to retain 400 unnamed Augusta jobs at Port Royal and increasing security at the riverwalk.

The commission also approved a new Tax Allocation District downtown to divert new property taxes resulting from development back into the area, including to help fund a renovated Holiday Inn Express reopening soon in the 400 block of Broad Street.

The downtown authority, which lost its Clean Augusta Downtown Initia­tive this year after property owners complained about the service’s extra taxes, will receive a management fee from the Discovery Pla­za project, according to a resolution of support.

The authority, which rejected an Augusta Rec­re­ation Department request for funds to prune trees on the riverwalk, cited larger, sales-tax funded future ambitions. The group also undertook a survey of downtown’s retail needs in 2013.

Finally, a new face in downtown development surfaced at community and government meetings this year. Matthew Kwatinetz, who arrived with a team involved in Starbucks’ decision to locate a soluble products plant in Augusta, was named by Mayor Deke Co­pen­haver as head of the ARC Project.

The ARC Project, funded so far through donations from Starbucks and city funds, moved into the former Me­tro Augusta Chamber of Com­merce building in the median in the 600 block of Broad Street. Kwatinetz said he’s leading an effort to renovate the architecturally unique structure into a jazz cafe, arts, business incubation and meeting space.

ABOUT THE SERIES

SATURDAY: The merger of Georgia Health Sciences and Augusta State universities became official in 2013, but not without its share of controversies.

SUNDAY: A federal judge ended the Richmond County school system’s desegregation order after 40 years.

MONDAY: Five members of Evans-based vein procedures company The Vein Guys, including co-founder Steven Roth, were killed in a Feb. 20 plane crash at Thomson-McDuffie County Airport.

TUESDAY: The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office wanted to address traffic concerns in 2013 with Operation Thunder, and it did, to the chagrin of many motorists.

WEDNESDAY: The city’s transition to once-a-week garbage, recycling and yard waste collection did not go smoothly.

THURSDAY: After a dozen years in the making, the Augusta Convention Center opened in February.

TODAY: Safety concerns after high-profile assaults and a proposed slum designation catapulted downtown Augusta back into the spotlight in 2013.

DEC. 28: Delays in consultations led to the deaths of three cancer patients at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.

DEC. 29: North Augusta officials approved a $144 million public-private development that would include a baseball stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets.

DEC. 30: Rain played
havoc with farmers,
event planners and
others in record-setting fashion.

DEC. 31: After a year of discontent over his performance, Augusta Commission members
fired longtime city Administrator Fred Russell in December.

Comments (25) Add comment
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corgimom
36879
Points
corgimom 12/26/13 - 09:11 pm
7
4
I'm just wondering. If a

I'm just wondering.

If a jazz café is such a good idea, why hasn't a private owner started one? And how about the idea that restaurants are known to have a very high failure rate?

countyman
21303
Points
countyman 12/26/13 - 09:47 pm
4
9
CBD=Destination

How can one violent crime(365 days) and the discussions over the use of the word slum equal a rough year? The months before May or after haven't produced any similar instances.. The leaders from several different cities in the state had to explain why the word 'slum' came up during their own redevelopment process..

The Holiday Inn Express is the first new hotel construction in decades... The upcoming Lofts at Marbury will become the first new residential construction(Non-renovated buildings) in decades and the growth will only speed up tremendously in 2014..

Riverman1
90855
Points
Riverman1 12/26/13 - 10:38 pm
7
1
Chronicle Missed Biggest Story

Looking at the coming stories, I see the Chronicle missed the biggest story of the year. Ft. Gordon landing the Cyber Command. This is going to affect the CSRA in a bigger way than anything since the SRS was built.

corgimom
36879
Points
corgimom 12/26/13 - 10:56 pm
6
4
I've been reading the

I've been reading the "Downtown is going to rebound" stories since 1979.

I wonder when it's going to happen.

corgimom
36879
Points
corgimom 12/26/13 - 11:00 pm
4
6
Yeah, the dope dealers,

Yeah, the dope dealers, tweakers, prostitutes, meth manufactures, and derelicts needed a new place to go on Broad St.

Anybody want to take any bets how long it'll be before it deteriorates?

corgimom
36879
Points
corgimom 12/26/13 - 11:02 pm
6
3
Well, Countyman, here's how

Well, Countyman, here's how Augusta ranks in violent crimes, out of 48 reporting areas-

1. Richmond Hill
2. The public housing complexes

And third, the Downtown Business District.

And that would be according to the AC.

countyman
21303
Points
countyman 12/27/13 - 12:57 am
1
5
CBD

The young professionals, hipsters, doctors, lawyers, etc need a place to socialize on Broad...

The most recent Augusta Chronicle crime map ranked Kissingbower #1 with 11 crimes... I didn't see where the CBD ranked third on the latest map.
http://chronicle.augusta.com/data/crimemap

The crime map includes all types of crimes and not just violent crime either. Drugs, burglaries, etc aren't characterized in the violent type category..

walrus4ever
354
Points
walrus4ever 12/27/13 - 06:22 am
6
1
What exactly is a "hipster"?

What exactly is a "hipster"? I get the impression that older patrons aren't welcome. Suits me.

Little Lamb
48049
Points
Little Lamb 12/27/13 - 08:00 am
6
1
Rebound

Look at the headline.

If the city is counting on "rebounding" using taxpayer money funneled through Queen Margaret's Downtown Development Authority, we've got a long, long, painful time ahead of us. They're planning to use the stimulus method that has worked so well on the U.S. economy. Only trouble is, Queen Margaret cannot print money like Ben Bernanke can.

Little Lamb
48049
Points
Little Lamb 12/27/13 - 08:04 am
6
0
Hipsters

Well, Walrus4ever, I would guess that a hipster is one with more than ample hips. Augusta has plenty of them.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 12/27/13 - 08:32 am
4
0
lemme know when the rebound

lemme know when the rebound happens so I don't miss it.

signed,
oblivious in CC

debbiep38
441
Points
debbiep38 12/27/13 - 09:03 am
0
0
Rebound?
Unpublished

Does silk purse out of a sow's ear come to mind, anyone?

Riverman1
90855
Points
Riverman1 12/27/13 - 10:09 am
10
1
Hipster Blisters

Hipsters are people who hang out on Broad St. drinking wine or coffee at sidewalk tables often seen talking with Matthew Kwatinetz. Their bikes are parked nearby. They wear clothes they get from the thrift shop, snatching it up before the poor folks can. They wear Ninja Warriors T-shirts, Toms shoes and carry a canvas bag. They receive free dental care at the dental school from students doing remedial work. They are also paid to participate in drug studies by MCG for innumerable psychiatric disorders. Some work for various development authorities and spend their time trying to pump their lifestyle and downtown loft apartments. They have never paid a tax of any kind other than sales tax. Fiscal sanity in local government is thought by them to be a Nazi trait. They look forward to the city owned jazz café Deke wants to open on Broad St.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 12/27/13 - 10:43 am
3
0
They snap their fingers when

They snap their fingers when pleased and say groovy alot

corgimom
36879
Points
corgimom 12/27/13 - 11:31 am
3
1
For Pete's sake, Countyman,

For Pete's sake, Countyman, look up at the left hand side of this page under the heading "Related Stories".

itsanotherday1
47070
Points
itsanotherday1 12/27/13 - 11:33 am
4
1
Give credit where due.

Give credit where due. Downtown has made a substantial comeback from where it was 20 years ago. It still has a LONG way to go in comparing with a Savannah or Greenville, but I think there is continuous forward progress, not stagnation.

Critics who don't visit or haven't in a while, should take in a couple of dinners at the Whiskey Bar, Boars Head, or several other popular restaurants. Then do a show now and then after dinner at the Imperial or Le Chat Noir.

countyman
21303
Points
countyman 12/27/13 - 12:28 pm
2
3
CBD

Walrus4ever... Empty nesters are definitely apart of the growth happening downtown.. The old Davidson school will become Davidson Manor in the near future.

Corgimom... I read the article from the Chronicle and their version of the CBD includes both 4th street and 15th street.... The CBD begins at 13th street for example and not 15th street. The area still only had one homicide even with the expanded boundaries...

The amount of foot traffic generated in the CBD is much higher than anywhere in else in Richmond County. The crowd downtown on First Fridays can easily reach over 10,000 people.. Many other events held downtown are much larger than First Friday...

The FBI uses per capita when comparing the crimes rates...

The amount of new private construction taking place downtown can't be denied...

augusta citizen
9955
Points
augusta citizen 12/27/13 - 12:21 pm
7
1
Hipsters

Hipsters walk urban streets at very fast paces, they sometimes pitch hissy fits when the coffee shop is out of their favorite latte. They can be sneaky, often back stepping behind their girlfriend when approaching unsavory types. They write long, redundant comments, calling any who disagree with them "haters" while inserting lots of LOLS. They are very cool though, so Dr. Azziz approves of them.

Riverman1
90855
Points
Riverman1 12/27/13 - 12:59 pm
6
0
" their girlfriend"

" their girlfriend"

I'm not sure about that.

Riverman1
90855
Points
Riverman1 12/27/13 - 01:14 pm
4
1
A Quote From Business Owner Downtown

I'm publishing this line from a private email without permission.:

"Downtown was deader than a door nail for Christmas - absolutely no business."

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 12/27/13 - 02:40 pm
2
0
Rollin Thunder isn't making

Rollin Thunder isn't making it a must-see destination either. Downtown gets alot of love when pushed for it or organized for it. WHen someone (organization) gets behind something and promotes it well, if it's a good thing, then folks are willing to come down there and support it. Does that translate to ongoing day-to-day success? overall success? Not even. It's a start but that's all it ever is. There are plenty of angles to consider down there and the city admin is involved in all of them. They see success in a different light than the people they are trying to lure down there. Until that disconnect changes and both are working toward the same goal equally, I don't see an end.

or how you say, "REbound"?

itsanotherday1
47070
Points
itsanotherday1 12/27/13 - 04:23 pm
2
1
So was every other business district in the U.S.

"Downtown was deader than a door nail for Christmas - absolutely no business."

walrus4ever
354
Points
walrus4ever 12/27/13 - 04:26 pm
4
0
Thanks for the "hipster"

Thanks for the "hipster" education. Its about what I envisioned. I have my own version of Rolling Thunder, its called Rolling at 64 mph on the way thru RC to work in SC. You know Sc, that's where the jobs are.

itsanotherday1
47070
Points
itsanotherday1 12/27/13 - 04:28 pm
3
0
Agree with DP's 1440 first

Agree with DP's 1440 first sentence too. According to AR, downtown sees a dropoff in business when Thunder is rolling.

countyman
21303
Points
countyman 12/27/13 - 05:59 pm
1
4
Richmond County= hub of CSRA

The city of Aiken can provide their own mall and downtown area. Aiken is definitely less of an bedroom community versus either Martinez or Evans. The amount of industry in Aiken County is much larger than Columbia but nowhere close to Richmond County.

Richmond(commute into daily)
Columbia- 28,568
Aiken- 10,269
Burke- 2,387

Aiken
Richmond- 5,699
Columbia- 3,840
Edgefield- 3,320

Columbia
Richmond 8,910
Aiken- 1,664
Mcduffie- 691
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/nation/census-commuting/

Riverman1
90855
Points
Riverman1 12/27/13 - 08:08 pm
4
1
Bedroom Communities

Countyman apparently thinks there's something wrong with being a bedroom community where tax paying people live safely and where their kids go to good schools.

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