Resident works to sell vision for neighborhood

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Directly west of downtown Augusta is the campus of Augusta State University, the upscale Surrey Center shopping plaza, the mansions of Summerville and the manicured greens of the Augusta National Golf Club and the Augusta Country Club.

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Jovan Armstrong, standing in front of Weed School, discusses his hopes for change in Augusta's Sand Hills neighborhood.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Jovan Armstrong, standing in front of Weed School, discusses his hopes for change in Augusta's Sand Hills neighborhood.

Then there's the Sand Hills neighborhood.

The rundown collection of boarded-up houses stands in direct contrast to the wealth and culture that surrounds it. Small businesses are shuttered and grimy; corner lots are overrun with knee-high weeds; abandoned houses with peeling paint squat on every block.

When Jovan Armstrong walks his childhood neighborhood, though, he sees promise, not decay.

"When you go to Summerville, there's a warm fuzzy feeling," said Armstrong, the vice president of the Sand Hills Neighborhood Watch. "You don't get that here ... but it's still available."

Armstrong has spent months selling his vision to residents and has their support. Now he's out to promote the new Sand Hills to the rest of Augusta.

Among his priorities are to attract the ASU students a mile away to the neighborhood. There's ample student housing if the empty houses could be renovated; there are two small apartment complexes within the neighborhood, but one is currently boarded up.

A laundromat and corner grocery also once existed, but are closed. Armstrong figures adding a coffee shop into the mix would complete the lure for students.

There are several barriers holding back the rebirth of Sand Hills; chief among them is money.

Business could be better at T's Barber Shop, said owner Steve Terrell, who would welcome a loan to improve his business. The dim little shop with two chairs and a century-old mirror sees only a handful of customers a day.

Another man next door who refused to give his name said he would love to open a bakery or donut shop in Sand Hills, but has run into similar problems raising the capital for such an operation.

Besides the business infrastructure that's already in place, there's an empty school and park waiting for a little tender loving care. In a walk around the neighborhood (which took place almost entirely in the street for a lack of sidewalks), Armstrong took visitors to the basketball court he played on as a child.

The rusty backboard looked on the verge of collapse; tall weeds grew in cracks along the baselines. On the other side of a tall stand of trees is a junior-sized baseball diamond, complete with stadium lights on wooden poles.

It's the ghost of Sand Hills, one Yvonne Alford remembers from when she moved here in 1972.

Back then it was a quiet neighborhood; everyone knew each other and Alford felt comfortable letting her children wander the streets with their friends. The tone of the neighborhood changed in the late 1980s, when drugs and its accompanying crime moved into Sand Hills.

"Everything started going down," said Alford.

Hugh Evans, a former drug addict who lives near Sand Hills, remembers prostitutes and drug dealers on every corner. It was common to find people having sex in the parks in the early morning, Evans said.

"I saw it get bad," he said.

Evans credits a combination of drug education and increased police presence for ridding Sand Hills of its worst criminal element. The drug dealers from Sand Hills' worst days are either dead or in prison now, said Evans.

To prevent another generation from taking those dealers' place, Alford keeps tabs on the young men walking along her front porch.

Asked whether she ever fears for her safety, Alford said she would rather take the risk of getting shot than watch a generation waste their lives.

"At least I can say I died trying," Alford said.

Armstrong acknowledges he has a long road ahead if he wants to fully realize his vision. But he's heartened by the revitalization of communities such as Vine City in Atlanta, which have experienced a surge of investment after years of decay.

He's criticized sometimes for speaking in the abstract, but it's the big picture that motivates Armstrong. He turns to an old proverb for encouragement when the naysayers get under his skin:

"Those who say 'it can't be done' shouldn't stand in the way of those doing it."

Comments (9) Add comment
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mary.dits
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mary.dits 05/01/11 - 08:02 am
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how many boarded-up, unmowed

how many boarded-up, unmowed properties are owned by wealthy country club members?

mefirst
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mefirst 05/01/11 - 08:02 am
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Way to go, Mr. Armstrong.

Way to go, Mr. Armstrong. Keep the dream alive...wish there were more like you..God bless.

Patty-P
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Patty-P 05/01/11 - 09:19 am
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I say if the city can get a

I say if the city can get a grip on the drug problems, a lot of other criminal activities will decrease too.

WW1949
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WW1949 05/01/11 - 09:32 am
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Mary, you are just taking a

Mary, you are just taking a stab at Lucian. How about the property was inherited by the new owners and if it borders the Augusta Country Club they are holding own o it hopeing that the Augusta Country Club will buy it. Sounds more reasonable to me. Anyway the neighboorhood is in decline because of the people who live there.

happychimer
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happychimer 05/01/11 - 09:44 am
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I am trying to find anything

I am trying to find anything on a Sand Hills Methodist Episcopal Church that existed in 1931. Was it in Augusta? The person I am researching lived in Augusta from 1920 till she died in 1931. She worked in King Mill. If anyone has any info on that church, please click on my name and contact me.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 05/01/11 - 10:29 am
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This guy has a great idea.

This guy has a great idea. Get ASU related business to have a stake in the area. Possibly the campus could even expand there with a building or something.

wynema69
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wynema69 05/01/11 - 11:43 am
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I would love to rent a small

I would love to rent a small house as a green project in the neighborhood. I looking for a small space I can put up some solar panels, rain barrels and grow some organic produce. Maybe start a produce stand for the neighborhood. Who do I contact??

jrbfromga
433
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jrbfromga 05/01/11 - 12:50 pm
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Patty-P hit the nail on the
Unpublished

Patty-P hit the nail on the head. If Augusta (and the rest of the nation) could resolve the drug issue, get people working and off of the dole, then the nation would be great again. There may be those that decry the "segregation" of the Sand Hills neighborhood as it was originally the living space of the servants for the Summerville residents, but it was also an example of a functional community, where people could walk to their work and everyone lived in harmony.

jrbfromga
433
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jrbfromga 05/01/11 - 12:50 pm
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Patty-P hit the nail on the
Unpublished

Patty-P hit the nail on the head. If Augusta (and the rest of the nation) could resolve the drug issue, get people working and off of the dole, then the nation would be great again. There may be those that decry the "segregation" of the Sand Hills neighborhood as it was originally the living space of the servants for the Summerville residents, but it was also an example of a functional community, where people could walk to their work and everyone lived in harmony.

Patty-P
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Patty-P 05/01/11 - 01:31 pm
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Savannah College of Art and

Savannah College of Art and Design would buy old buildings (some historic), and renovate them. SCAD is one of the more well-known and respected colleges on the East Coast. The idea seemed to work wonders for the area. SCAD students use them as apartments/lofts. I believe some of the students helped with the design and restoration projects as well. Cleaned up the area and helped the students gain experience.

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 05/01/11 - 01:32 pm
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I think the first step is for

I think the first step is for the people who live in this neighborhood to take the bull by the horns and do anything THEY can do first, before any other potential investors come driving through. It'd make a better impression on them if they see the neighbors all working together, toward one goal. Mow the grass at an abandoned house, pick up litter, prune bushes, put boards over broken windows, talk to the residents and convince them to work on the outside appearance of their homes, etc..

MaggieHenry
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MaggieHenry 05/01/11 - 02:28 pm
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"Save Sand Hills".... What a

"Save Sand Hills".... What a great initiative and model it could be for all of Augusta. Good job Mr. Armstrong. I hope the neighborhood will get behind your leadership and take Just My Opinion's advice.

dani
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dani 05/01/11 - 03:21 pm
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I, too, say good luck Mr.

I, too, say good luck Mr. Armstrong. The area can be turned around and I say to you, keep the dream alive.

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