Students, business owners disagree on 'coolness'

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Augusta's cool quotient depends on whom you ask.

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Patrons eat at Bee's Knees in downtown. Some residents say Augusta lags behind Greenville and Charleston, S.C.   Corey Perrine/Staff
Corey Perrine/Staff
Patrons eat at Bee's Knees in downtown. Some residents say Augusta lags behind Greenville and Charleston, S.C.

Georgia Health Sciences University President Ricardo Azziz and others think the city has slim cool offerings.

Even if it does exude some coolness, as downtown business owners and supporters believe, some GHSU students said they would know the library walls better than the local scene.

Speaking Monday to the Rotary Club of Augusta, Azziz said Augusta lacks a creative, vibrant culture and lifestyle that many potential research recruits desire.

Sarah Beth Eriksen, 24, a third-year GHSU medical student, said students are more concerned with studying than looking for "distractions."

"The young culture here is all very transient," Eriksen said. "It's all people who come in for school and leave."

The downtown lifestyle was a factor in Eriksen's decision to move back to Greenville, S.C., where she attended college.

"Augusta is what Greenville was 15 years ago before they got their act together," she said.

Downtown Greenville has a cluster of restaurants, shops, businesses and arts centers along its river bank and Main Street.

Augusta could benefit from a proactive city council interested in reinvigorating downtown, Eriksen said.

Kapil Chaudhary, 29, said Augusta lags behind Birmingham, Ala., and other cities in the region he has visited.

A GHSU doctoral candidate originally from India and living in Augusta for almost two years, Chaudhary said he is eager to finish school. Chaudhary wouldn't stay in Augusta as a researcher, he said.

Medical University of South Carolina spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said Charleston, S.C., has a slight edge in terms of lifestyle. Many recruiters say the medical school's location was a factor in many faculty and student decisions, Woolwine said.

Chad Hembree, 32, of Newnan, Ga., chose Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C., 10 years ago over Medical College of Georgia for academic reasons.

The city lifestyle was not a significant decision-maker, Hembree said.

But Hembree said the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area does offer some cool downtown development for living, shopping, eating, sports and the arts.

"Durham has nooks and crannies that are nice, but it certainly has a long way to go," he said.

A combination of students, young professionals, doctors and researchers visit the American Tobacco District, a renovated tobacco warehouse adjacent to the city's baseball stadium and performing arts center, Hembree said.

"There's a very vibrant community of higher education and with that comes a lot of cultural events," he said.

Azziz said Augusta doesn't compare well to cities including Charleston and Durham that have worked to make walkable and liveable communities.

Augustans seem to believe a myth that students and researchers are transient people, Azziz said.

"Having a culture that is attractive to productive individuals in their younger years translates to longer retention rates," Azziz said. "That is why top liveable communities are academic communities," he said.

Dr. Ben Casella, 30, said Augusta needs visionaries such as Azziz to capitalize on downtown real estate.

"It takes people coming from the outside looking in," said Casella, an optometrist on Broad Street. Casella is also a member of Historic Augusta Inc. and Downtown Augusta Alliance.

"We are a cool city. You just have to be more appealing on the surface," Casella said.

Downtown Augusta needs less vacant buildings between each good business, he said. Young people need to put forth effort to find out the good things downtown offers, Casella said.

The key is picking up periodicals with entertainment calendars to know what's going on, he said.

Coco Rubio, the owner of Soul Bar and Sky City in downtown Augusta, said "cool" was an interesting word choice from Azziz.

"Cool: It's an abstract word that means something different to everyone," Rubio said.

Rubio and others said downtown has a pocket of coolness suited for those looking for an artsy life.

"There's a misconception here in town," he said.

Rubio pinpointed the blocks radiating from the corner of 10th Street and Broad Street as a "natural center for cool."

"It's always been small businesses and friends working together," he said. "We decided awhile back we're going to live here and do something."

Azziz said Augusta can reach a higher level quickly, and that's why he is willing to work on it.

"We have a good start," Azziz said. "We haven't gelled it all together into areas of town that people want to go."

What they're saying

What Augusta has:

- Jack McAdams and others said Petersburg Boat canal cruises are a cool thing to do.

- Lynn Mertins stays busy listening to live music at the Appleby Library and Jesse Norman Amphitheatre.

- Saturday Markets on the River and First Friday keeps Priscilla Bence coming downtown.

What Augusta needs:

- Cool transportation seems to be the downtown fix for Bill Hughes, of North Augusta. He would like to see two English-style double decker buses, a cable-car running across the Savannah River, pedi-cabs and a riverboat. You could see the sights from a restaurant built on stilts.

- A performing arts center on the river would be one reason for LaVetta Jones to call Augusta cool. She also recommends a children's museum in the former Fort Discovery building.

- Marie Kerwan Turner and her stepdaughter, Allison, would like a restaurant on the river.

Join the online conversation

Share your thoughts on last week's "cool" comments:

- "True though... Augusta is about as cool as an episode of The Lawrence Welk Show" -- Posted by Emerydan at 4:40 p.m. Monday

- "Maybe the word 'cool' is not the appropriate word to be used, but it sure got some folks riled up, huh?" -- Posted by twilahzone at 9:31 a.m. Wednesday

Comments (55) Add comment
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stillamazed 06/14/11 - 09:24 am
You can't assume because

You can't assume because someones looks a certain way that they are up to no good. When you do that you are either a biggot or you are sterotyping and either way it is wrong. I understand that with the crimes committed in our area that people would be leary but you can't live in fear or assume that because someone looks a certain way that they are criminals.

leftn2002 06/14/11 - 09:42 am
The Augusta Riverwalk used to

The Augusta Riverwalk used to be beautiful. YEARS ago. Nice shops and restaurants. I used to frequent those businesses. It was cool place. Local government greed and corruption destroyed that and any other progress Augusta could make. Not the crime people complain about now. In order for disGusta to regain it's "cool" factor, the government needs to get over itself and begin serving the citizenry and planning for the future. I left there in 2002, and I wouldn't dream of moving back there now. Whenever I come to visit I get depressed. It looks so desolote despite the construction, etc. Buildings without people are called abandoned, and that is what has happened with every other "revitilzation" project in the past several years.

Brad Owens
Brad Owens 06/14/11 - 10:29 am
stillamazed, I like your


I like your posting, it is naive, idealistic, and passionate. Too bad it is not grounded in the harsh realities of real life.

Fact is, if your "gut feelings" tells you a situation is dnagerous/bad, listen to that. It is your instincts of self-preservation at work.

To allow yourself to be put in a situation where you are going against your instincts for the sake of PC will make you a victim.


Adder 06/14/11 - 11:00 am
I am sure it will be "cooler"

I am sure it will be "cooler" once they close down Laney-walker,right ?

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