Can Ellis Street be transformed into a San Antonio-like Riverwalk?

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Augusta Commissioner Andy Cheek's proposal to turn Ellis Street into a canal is pie in the sky to some in Augusta and a fantastic idea to others.

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Augusta  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Augusta

But to Mr. Cheek, who presented the "Ellis Street Option" to commissioners at last week's meeting, water flowing from the Augusta Canal at 12th Street down Ellis from 13th to Sixth Street would be an economic boon, bringing tourists and tourist dollars to the Garden City.

"It would be the thread that binds the package together," he said. "The new baseball stadium, the Golf Hall of Fame gardens, the TEE center, Artists Row and the canal would all be within walking distance in downtown Augusta."

Mr. Cheek envisions new restaurants popping up all over town and tourists on canal-boat rides spending money hand over fist in hotels, restaurants, gift shops and art galleries.

"Real estate would skyrocket," he said. "We would increase the tax base through sales taxes, the hotel-motel tax. It would be a win-win situation that would pay for itself in a short period."

And just how much would that be?

Mr. Cheek estimates $27 million to $47 million.

"I'm basing my costs on the Atlanta Gas Light cleanup," he said, referring to the environmental reclamation project on Eighth Street south of Walton Way.

While Mr. Cheek's commission colleagues received the presentation as information and most said it sounded good, some were skeptical.

"It sounded like a good project," Commissioner Calvin Holland said. "We've got a lot of other things we could be working on. It's going to take a lot of time. It's going to take a lot of money."

Commissioner Don Grantham called the proposal "interesting."

"It's like I said, 'When you've got a vision, put it out there,'" he said. "But once we start digging up Ellis Street, how much damage are we going to do to the foundations of those buildings? I don't know that that's been thought about."

Mr. Grantham said commissioners need to consider implementing Mr. Cheek's plan at the present location of the Augusta Canal because the proposed new judicial center and other developments are going into the area around James Brown Boulevard and Walton Way.

"It would be less expensive and, hopefully, just as effective," Mr. Grantham said. "It's an interesting concept. We have a resource that should be utilized better than it is."

Commissioner Marion Williams said the Ellis Street Option is an example of thinking outside the box, but it won't work.

"They won't be able to get water down Ellis Street," he said. "Your great-great-great-granddaughter would never see that."

Mr. Williams said commissioners who wanted Mr. Cheek to vote for the new trade, event and exhibition center on Reynolds Street next to the Marriott Hotel & Suites were pretending to support the proposal.

"They've got Andy bourgeoisied," he said. "They kinda fed Andy along. Andy is in an imaginary world. I think they were saying to him that could be done. He will never see that - not in Augusta. We don't even have a 27-story building, and you're going to see water running down the street?"

Mr. Cheek said Mr. Williams' allegation was "absolute baloney."

"The economic benefit of this plan for other cities, San Antonio, Texas, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, has been proven," he said. "As for as commissioners pulling the wool over my eyes, they just responded to what they think is a good idea. I think Marion needs to plug back into reality."

Even more critical of the proposal was Bonnie Ruben, the owner of the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Ruben's Department Store on Broad Street.

"I don't think you just dig up a street and put a canal someplace," she said.

"Really, I don't hardly even know what to say about something this off-the-wall. I mean, I think it's completely off-the-wall. Why don't we have a space station above Broad Street, and we could beam Andy Cheek right up to the space station? Why don't we launch rocket tours downtown from Ellis Street?"

Ms. Ruben asked whether anybody knows how much the project would cost and what the side effects would be.

She said Augusta would be better off if city leaders put their efforts into finding tenants for vacant downtown buildings, redeveloping property and creating economic incentives for people who want to come downtown and do business and open new stores.

"We need to make it easy for people to move into Augusta downtown and open business, not to make it difficult," she said. "Our efforts ought to be geared to making downtown user-friendly, which it isn't."

Mr. Cheek is not deterred by the naysayers.

"If you look at the economic benefits, it would be worth the fight," he said. "Even Mr. (Henry) Cummings when he decided to expand the canal in the 1800s and attracted 40-some-odd industries had to fight then, too. There's always going to be a group of people against anything, and that's worth fighting for. It's changed the face of San Antonio and Oklahoma City."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT THE ELLIS STREET PROPOSAL

"The picture looks very nice. I can imagine the involvement and difficulties in trying to transfer Ellis Street into a canal which would affect all businesses on both sides of Ellis, as well as those on Broad Street that extend through the block to Ellis. It lends itself to expense, time and involvement with displacing infrastructure and an important thoroughfare through downtown Augusta."


- Jack Connell, the owner of Sandwich City at 10th and Ellis streets

"You can put a pretty picture to anything, but that doesn't mean it's feasible or doable. There are a lot of other things I think you'd have to do first, and this is a pie-in-the-sky kind of crazy thing. And I think whoever is proposing this is purely nuts."


- Bonnie Ruben, owner of the Ramada Plaza hotel and Ruben's Department Store on Broad Street

"I just don't think it's doable. Too much money. Too much infrastructure. Got to move the sewers, the power, the storm sewers. And what are you going to do with this place (Sandwich City on Ellis Street)? How are people going to come in and out?"


- Jeff Coffey, a controls technician for Gold Mech

"I think if it would benefit the downtown area and bring in more business and generate more tax dollars, it would be a plus. I also think the TEE center would be even better. We don't have any places for a car show."


- Fred Munns, a vendor for car shows and memorabilia

"He's trying so hard to do something heroic, but we've got so many things we need to do."


- Commissioner Jimmy Smith

"We're going to have to start doing something of that nature. It's something worthwhile looking into. I'm not going to shoot it down. I think it's seriously worth taking a look at, the Ellis Street project. It's going to take time."


- Commissioner Bernard Harper



"I think it's something that needs to be looked at and studied to determine the cost and then decide what needs to happen. Then after we know what it's going to cost, we've got to decide where we're going to get the money to do it. It's different."


- Commissioner Jerry Brigham

"It's getting some traction. Andy is getting a lot of phone calls. He's going to have some more meetings to get some public comment. Fixing the canal up is good. There are some challenges with Ellis Street, though."


- City Administrator Fred Russell

"I think that's probably one of the best ideas I have ever seen for Augusta, Ga., and by far the best idea for increasing tourism in downtown Augusta. I'm flabbergasted at the presentation. I was skeptical at first, but after seeing his presentation, it could be the best thing to happen to downtown Augusta. I've received the calls from people as far away as Columbia, S.C., and St. Simons Island, Ga., from canoeists and kayakers interested in our project because there's nothing in this region that compares to what Andy has presented."


- Commissioner Joe Bowles

"I think there's some merit in using the natural water we have, but for us to dig up Ellis Street is pie in the sky. If it happens, how much liability does that create for the city? Furthermore, how much is it going to cost? It's more like $74 million instead of $24 million like he's talking about. I don't know where he went to engineering school, but gee, it's going to cost a lot of money to do that. Twenty-four million is not going to scratch the surface."


- Dave Barbee, 10th District Republican Party representative

"I think the concept is marvelous. I have no idea what the cost would be or anything. But the general concept or anything like that to improve downtown Augusta would be fabulous."


- Nick Shaw, stockbroker and resident of River Place at Port Royal

"I think it's a great idea. I don't think it will ever happen - not in Augusta, Ga. It would make Augusta very pretty. I just don't think I see our commission agreeing on it, or they would start working on it and then run out of money and stop."


- Maria Shackleford, manager of Mail Central on Ellis Street

"I think it looks great. I don't know how it could be done. It will be difficult to do. The cost would be my concern."


- Ray Brown, a contractor from North Augusta

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ONLY THE TRUTH
2
Points
ONLY THE TRUTH 08/26/07 - 03:55 am
1
0
Marion Williams

Marion Williams quote----"bourgeoisied". Need anybody have to say any more?? LOL LOL LOL

Does_it_really_matter
1
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Does_it_really_matter 08/26/07 - 06:49 am
1
0
What a fantastic idea! Yes,

What a fantastic idea! Yes, the costs would be staggering and the physical doing of the project would take an extremely long time with years of work. However, if something like this were to happen in the Augusta area, it would definitely better the city and would allow us to become more of a tourist destination as well as more of a destination for the businesses in the area bringing people into the area. If other cities can do this, we can too - if people will embrace the vision and step back long enough to realize the impact we could see from something like this. Very cool idea!

karmakills123
8
Points
karmakills123 08/26/07 - 07:26 am
1
0
It is a really grand

It is a really grand idea!....With that being said I really wonder if it is possible in Augusta ?..It is a huge project and one that would rely on persons with great imaginations and visionary thinking......and we are talking about Augusta ...... Sylvia Coopers column today has a rather funny look at this idea.

PIOSSEDOFF
3
Points
PIOSSEDOFF 08/26/07 - 07:40 am
1
0
Great idea --can we Please

Great idea --can we Please get some new pavement downtown first?? these are the fresh ideas Augusta needs. But you have to get rid of the old farts first!!

jgdarling
3
Points
jgdarling 08/26/07 - 07:47 am
1
0
Let's save $100 million and

Let's save $100 million and just clean the canal we already have.

PFLY775
2
Points
PFLY775 08/26/07 - 07:53 am
1
0
Take my idea and run with

Take my idea and run with it...I put it in the comments last week or so with a link to San Antonio......not for Ellis Street but for the existing canal. Just because some officials don't have vision doesn't mean the project can't work. If it was floating past her store, Reuben would be for it.

Daphne
1
Points
Daphne 08/26/07 - 07:54 am
1
0
Kudos to Andy Cheek, this is

Kudos to Andy Cheek, this is a fantastic opportunity for Augusta. I had given up on Augusta and written it off as a total loss until I heard Andy`s proposal, now I am very excited and optimistic about Augusta`s future.

raptcontemplation
4
Points
raptcontemplation 08/26/07 - 08:36 am
1
0
Thought Augusta should do

Thought Augusta should do something similiar when I first saw the San Antonio canal in the late 60s. Absolutely! Go for it!

luckie
2
Points
luckie 08/26/07 - 08:50 am
1
0
It's great to see optiimism

It's great to see optiimism versus pessimism. I think the commissioners are finally seeing their purpose.

Equaltreatmentforall
49
Points
Equaltreatmentforall 08/26/07 - 08:52 am
1
0
I love this idea! To the many

I love this idea! To the many of you that stay in their little comfort zones by fighting any kind of change: Wake up Augusta, it's time for an exciting change. This is just what we need!

jackfruitpaper833
41
Points
jackfruitpaper833 08/26/07 - 08:53 am
1
0
Taking up space instead of

Taking up space instead of building up, people don't come to the River Walk or Garden right now. Why not build two 27 story buildings in that spot/area? Andy is about to be out of local politics so he's trying to oooze good with this MESS. I think he's trying to set the stage with an exit from office with good things so he can use it as a means of drawing support for and if he runs for another office.

San Antonio and Oklahoma probably don't have commissioner and city RACE issues so naturally it works for them there. This will not be good for Augusta, a WAIST of money.

CHIEF
2
Points
CHIEF 08/26/07 - 08:56 am
1
0
Let's go for broke, we have

Let's go for broke, we have no mall or stores or high piced economy to support this venture or the history. We need to get realitic and stop wasting time with an area thats not suited for that type of construction. After all it's appararent Augusta is not Atlanta or San Antonio......

marie21
5
Points
marie21 08/26/07 - 09:10 am
1
0
Great idea Andy. At least

Great idea Andy. At least someone on the commission is trying to do something new and exciting for Augusta. This Ellis project would bring new businesses downtown and lots of people. Keep working on it Andy.

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 08/26/07 - 09:19 am
1
0
I think it is a great idea,

I think it is a great idea, but I personally don't want to bring more tourists to this town until it is safer downthere. Use that money to clean up downtown. Go way out in the country and build a replica downtown and let the scum that hangs and lives downtown have it!!! lol I mean downtown is not the safest tourist spot and even the hotels on washington road are becoming so crime ridden its almost unbearable, where is safe place for all these tourists to stay??

lavoniel
1
Points
lavoniel 08/26/07 - 09:44 am
1
0
Great idea!!!!!! Go

Great idea!!!!!!
Go Andy!!!!

LF

RebelTA
1
Points
RebelTA 08/26/07 - 09:45 am
1
0
Before anything in downtown

Before anything in downtown is going to work this city is going to have to toughen up the lawless thugs who are allowed to run wild. Downtown will never be thought of as safe nor will it ever be profitable as long as the local residents consider it to be hazardous. Start tightening up on the projects that are the radius, start inforcing the laws, get the housing authority to enforce their own rules and leave nothing in those areas except for your elderly who are the only ones deserving of a helping hand. Make the deadbeats throw away their EBT's and get a job, maybe then they will get some pride.

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 08/26/07 - 09:51 am
1
0
lol Well put tired!! But

lol Well put tired!! But housing will never do their job... been there.... tried that!! lol

Answer
1
Points
Answer 08/26/07 - 10:06 am
1
0
Andy Cheek is either

Andy Cheek is either brilliant or crazy. It is nice to see the commission dream big dreams. A little vision is a welcomed change. Now let's see if he can get ANY momentum behind it.

Tim Walters
1
Points
Tim Walters 08/26/07 - 10:11 am
1
0
Great Idea Canal on Ellis St'

Great Idea Canal on Ellis St' Drag Strip on Broad St. A floating Base Ball Stadium in the River and all the Commisioners giving away $100.00 bills on every corner is Augusta's only chance for Tourism

bigalsc
4
Points
bigalsc 08/26/07 - 10:31 am
1
0
What am I missing with all

What am I missing with all this enthusiasm? Here's a better idea: Why don't we just do this with the Canal as originally proposed. We've got an un-utilized asset in the canal,With the TEE, downtown will revitalize and Ellis Street will become once again a feeder street for business and parking options. The rail lines already break the traffic flow downtown, now we want to add water to the mix? Let's take that 47 mil and get the rails relocated instead.

coco rubio
53
Points
coco rubio 08/26/07 - 10:35 am
1
0
will somebody please tell

will somebody please tell bonnie ruben that she could help downtown augusta by fixing up her burned out buildings and renovating her old stores & ancient ramada hotel........she wants the city to redevelop properties & lots of those are probably hers.......the canal idea is interesting...and hopefully, they can begin with the exisiting canal......i noticed that the "new" section is complete yet has no water.....what's up with that?......there are so many things needed first.......i could see this working possibly down the road.....but, right now, let's fix & update our infrastructure......and let's see our gov't get busy on basic needs first....before going out on a limb with this "disney land" idea.......it's a small world, after all.

wise
1
Points
wise 08/26/07 - 11:19 am
1
0
timco I was thinking the same

timco I was thinking the same thing a floating base ball stadium.

ijr
1
Points
ijr 08/26/07 - 11:28 am
1
0
This is the best idea the

This is the best idea the city has had in the fifteen years I have lived here. I would definately go dowtown and spend my money down there if they built it.

NANF
4
Points
NANF 08/26/07 - 11:32 am
1
0
Venice, Italy. Right down

Venice, Italy. Right down thre middle of town. "Town" has always been a mess, now the plot thickens. Water traffic along with reg. traffic, TRAINS, the big megga conference thingy a ball stadium. WHAT in the world is the comm. trying to do?? Just pipe dreams folks. Some one says " gee, it works for San Antonio ". Why do you think it will work here? All this stuff in one general area and you would have to park in Evans to access it by , what ? Boat? What? Access to down town now is clearly a problem on a good day. What'cha gonna do with the rest of it? Pop!! Goes the tax cap. Luck to y'all paying for this mish-mash.

Riverman1
83907
Points
Riverman1 08/26/07 - 11:38 am
1
0
Developing the areas around

Developing the areas around the current canal is a fantastic idea as is constructing the rapids for kayaking. Lake Olmstead, Riverwalk and the current canal can be beautiful assets. Do that. The Ellis St canal is foolish until the current canal is improved and utilized to its full potential.

swedesurfer
1
Points
swedesurfer 08/26/07 - 11:43 am
1
0
finally one of the

finally one of the commissioners has stepped up to the plate to help create an idea to sky rocket augusta's tourism. true, augusta is not a major city, but the metropolitan area does have at least 1/2 a million people, whom could surely support a project of this size. I'm not saying it's the "best" idea that could have been chosen for downtown, but it could strengthen downtown and the other proposals that have been made such as the stadium, dragstrip, and the various condominiums. However, truly before we dig up ellis street, it is neccesary that we first make Other parts of downtown attractive and modern. then we can begin this project.

sctex
1
Points
sctex 08/26/07 - 12:04 pm
1
0
Get out while you can!

Get out while you can!

noctur55
1
Points
noctur55 08/26/07 - 12:34 pm
1
0
Until the religious right

Until the religious right give up their anti-alcohol jihad, it will never come to pass in Augusta.

F. Williams
1
Points
F. Williams 08/26/07 - 12:38 pm
1
0
Great Idea! The Augusta Canal

Great Idea! The Augusta Canal is a National Heritage Area. Why not use this fact and the many other things that we have built along the Canal such as our national recognized Davidson Fine Arts Academy to form the anchors for an expanded vision for the future. I have visited San Antonio and Oklahoma City numerous times. These cities built their "tourist draw" around the "real historic and culture" or the river assets. We can do the same with the Augusta Canal. Let's set a date to have over 200,000 visitors per year coming here........The Augusta Canals 200th Burthday in 2045. I was born in 1945 and would love to get this as a present on my 100th birthday.

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 08/26/07 - 12:47 pm
0
0
I think it's a good idea that
Unpublished

I think it's a good idea that needs to be studied a little more. Even good ideas can be a nightmare logistically. Having a Convention & Tee Center, possibly a stadium, Riverwalk, additional higher-end shopping would all be wonderful for Augusta. Big city feel in a small town!

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