Dreams of future might be real deal

Special
Some city planners say Augusta will see incredible development in the next decade.

In past decades, who would have believed Bobby Jones Expressway would span the Savannah River?

Or that golf links would sprout from North Augusta's abandoned waterfront? Or that Augusta Common would someday open Broad Street to Riverwalk?

A decade from now, Augusta will have undergone even more dramatic changes, according to some of the city's most forward-thinking planners.

"I think people will be amazed at what will be accomplished here," said Braye Boardman, a board member and past president of Augusta Tomorrow Inc., a player in downtown Augusta's evolution for 25 years.

Already on the burner are plans for high-rise condominiums along the waterfront on Reynolds Street, a $40 million judicial complex near Walton Way and a host of other projects destined to become catalysts for even more change.

"There will always be those projects that are just dreams, but they can be turned into reality," Mr. Boardman said, noting that some people didn't believe Riverwalk Augusta and other amenities would ever exist.

Augusta Tomorrow, a semiprivate stakeholders group that includes developers and downtown property interests, entered into a partnership with Augusta's city council March 22, 1982, to fund a $120,000 downtown redevelopment study.

Planners found a city with great opportunity and potential that also suffered from apathy and a lack of clear direction for its downtown. The plan that ultimately was produced helped create the riverwalk, a network of museums and marinas and many attractions that exist today.

With so many new projects already on the drawing board, Augusta Tomorrow - which revised its master plan in 1995 to propose, among other things, the Augusta Commons project - will need to examine the city's direction once again.

"It'll be a yearlong process to get it done, but we want to get all the stakeholders involved," Mr. Boardman said.

The burst of development along the fringe of what once was Augusta's core also makes it likely that boundaries for future planning will expand to include North Augusta, the Harrisburg area off Broad Street and the long-neglected third level of the Augusta Canal.

"For years, the master plan stopped on the river," Mr. Boardman said. "It was decided that so many positive things were happening in North Augusta that the river didn't need to be a barrier."

North Augusta's thriving downtown now includes the River Golf Club and homes on the water, a new city hall complex on a bluff off Georgia Avenue and the Hammond's Ferry project that is transforming an old mining area into Charleston-like homes and businesses with a riverfront commons.

The Harrisburg community off Broad Street is another area to watch.

"We plan on turning dirt by the end of the year," said the Salvation Army's Derek Dugan, the coordinator for the planned Kroc Center that depends on the ability to win a $71 million grant from the estate of McDonald's heiress Joan Kroc.

"It would have a 600-seat performing arts center, an athletic complex, fields, soccer, football, baseball, dual gyms, walking tracks and separate facilities for adults and kids," he said. "It would have an entire education facility - a school, basically - that all organizations could use."

Tucked along the Augusta Canal near Chafee Park, the center would turn that area into a new enterprise zone that could then lure more development.

George Patty, the executive director of the Augusta-Richmond County Planning Commission, has no doubt that many of the proposed changes will occur.

"There is so much new energy in the river and in North Augusta that's it's absolutely going to spill over into Augusta," he said.

"One prediction I think we can all look forward to is that with all the continued residential development, downtown Augusta will make the jump from rental property to owner-occupied lofts and homes," he said. "And we still have a lot of land on the river, between Sandbar Ferry Bridge and the city-owned land, and all of it's going to be developed - or redeveloped."

The area along the Augusta Canal's third level, stretching roughly from Seventh to 12th streets, has been largely overlooked in past decades, when redevelopment efforts have focused more on the riverfront and Broad Street, he said.

Soon, however, the canal's third level will be the site of improvements that are to include a judicial center, library and a federal bankruptcy court complex.

There might even be a "James Brown Heritage Museum," anchored by a new Heritage Square that would adjoin a $40 million judicial complex surrounded by new office, retail and housing communities, according to a master plan developed by a task force assigned to study the area.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

AN UPCOMING EVOLUTION

- Major new facilities could someday include a new convention and trade center, hotels and huge retail sites, including Village at Riverwatch and a planned expansion at Augusta Mall.

- Condominium towers are planned on former city land on Reynolds Street; other changes include transition from downtown rental property to owner-occupied housing; more retail and redevelopment surrounding Augusta Commons; redevelopment of industrial areas along Savannah River.

- $107 million Kroc Center in the Harrisburg area would include performing arts center, parks, schools and other amenities; Enterprise and Sibley mills nearby could be converted to housing, much like Enterprise Mill.

- North Augusta has a new city hall complex off Georgia Avenue; Hammond's Ferry will include greenspace and a waterfront commons area, in addition to housing and commercial space.

- Third level of the Augusta Canal will include historic redevelopment of old mills and industrial sites; a new library and a $40 million judicial center and city hall off Walton Way.

- Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy hopes to expand its campus and education programs as it works toward a goal of becoming a major regional ecological research center.

Source: Augusta Chronicle research