Connecting the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods to downtown Augusta’s business district was a focus of discussion at roundtable meetings Monday, the first day of a three-day conference to develop a sustainability program for the area.
A panel commissioned by the American Institute of Architects reviewed the master redevelopment plan for Laney-Walker and Bethlehem with key members in the revitalization project.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Planning Director George Patty, Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell and Sustainable Development Manager John Paul Stout were among the city’s representatives.
“A lot of groundwork has been done inside this boundary,” said Michael Davis, a Boston architect and the conference’s team leader. “The development team said to us, ‘How do we take this to the next level?’”
Augusta was one of seven cities that received a grant from the institute for the sustainability program. The $15,000 grant was supplemented by a $5,000 contribution from the city.
In 2008, the city began a massive revitalization initiative in Laney-Walker and Bethlehem to replace blight with development. A special 50-year hotel/motel tax that generates $750,000 a year funds the $38.5 million public investment.
Davis said R.A. Dent Boulevard acts as a physical and cultural barrier between the bustling Georgia Health Sciences University and a dilapidated neighborhood.
He also said more development on Ninth and 12th streets would help connect downtown and Laney-Walker.
Copenhaver said the lower level of the Augusta Canal is a logical connecting point between the business district and Laney-Walker.
Entertainment and arts investments should also extend beyond Broad Street into Laney-Walker, he said.
Also participating Monday were Bob Munger, the director of the nonprofit Augusta Greenway Alliance; Historic Augusta Executive Director Erick Montgomery; Christine Miller-Betts, the director of the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History; residents; architects; and real estate agents.
Participants cited a lack of transportation infrastructure, bus service, public safety and retail in the neighborhoods.
Discussions also continued about a perceived disconnect between the city’s vision for transforming the area and community involvement, especially with longtime residents.