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Leadership, planning keys to North Augusta growth

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NORTH AUGUSTA — It’s no longer the other Augusta.

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The Augusta skyline is seen from a terrace at the North Augusta Municipal Center, which towers over the city's Georgia Avenue entrance.   SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
The Augusta skyline is seen from a terrace at the North Augusta Municipal Center, which towers over the city's Georgia Avenue entrance.

The recent announcement of a new stadium and town center development just across the 13th Street bridge surprised a lot of people, but not those who have been paying attention to North Augusta.

Those who have been watching the city across the Savannah River have seen it coming for quite some time.

Mayor Lark Jones has had an insider’s view.

“Over the last 15 years, first and foremost, we have moved out of the shadow of Augusta and carved our own identity,” said Jones, who has sat at the helm of the city’s most significant period of growth and change since it was founded in 1906.

Jones credits several components to the city’s success, but he says the main thing behind it is a stable, business-friendly government. Jones said that includes years of planning by previous administrations such as that of former Mayor Tom Greene, the namesake of the Greeneway, the city’s much-used pedestrian and bicycle trail system.

“They did things right and laid the foundation that allows us to do the things we are doing now,” he said.

New downtown

Some of those things include major improvements to the downtown’s main drag: Georgia Avenue. New signs and streetscaping along Georgia and West avenues are designed to make the downtown area more picturesque and pedestrian-friendly.

In 2008, the city erected a 68,000-square-foot Municipal Center that towers over the city’s Georgia Avenue entrance. And each year the city works to make improvements to its parks and public spaces, Jones said.

Since 2009, the city has invested more than $25 million in improvement projects.

“We have a tremendous park system,” he said. “We have purchased property for another Riverview-size park in the north side of town that eventually will be completed as well.”

Jones said focusing on these “quality of life” details instills a sense of community pride and makes North Augusta an attractive place for people to live and raise families. That, in turn, is the kind of environment that attracts more business and more development.

“Maybe 20 years ago people thought of North Augusta as a bedroom community, but now they don’t,” said Turner Simkins, one of the businessmen behind the Hammond’s Ferry development, a “new urban” community growing on North Augusta’s riverfront.

Simkins said North Augusta has created an environment that attracts entrepreneurs and investors, which is why so much growth is happening on the South Carolina side of the river.

Walking along the riverfront Thursday, Simkins pointed to a newly planted overcup oak tree as an example of how well the city works with developers.

“They just planted that; I didn’t even know it was there,” he said.

He said some of the trees planted on streets a few years ago are growing so fast that they are already getting a bit crowded for space. A few need to be culled here and there to make room for others.

“In most communities you have trouble getting the city out to cut a limb,” he said. “Here, not only do they take down trees, but they plant new ones without you even asking.”

Years of growth

Simkins said the new development proposal, which includes a town center that has always been part of the Hammond’s Ferry plan, along with the new baseball stadium, will be the fruition of plans first proposed by the city’s founding father, James U. Jackson.

According to city history, Jackson first envisioned a new town in the bluff areas above the flood plains as a boy growing up in Augusta. After becoming a successful businessman, he began to develop plans for a city situated on 600 acres, hiring designers from New York to assist with his vision. He eventually sought financial backing for a new bridge at 13th Street to connect the two cities, building it in 1891 for the cost of $85,000.

In 1951, the city extended its boundaries to an area of 5,139 acres – or about eight square miles – and has since expanded to about 20 square miles. Jones said steady, controlled growth has been an essential part of the city’s success and has helped it maintain a stable tax rate.

“We have not had a property tax increase in 21 years,” he said. “We have grown enough, and growth has been very steady. It hasn’t mushroomed. If you look at every census, we have grown slowly and surely every 10 years.”

In fact, North Augusta’s population has grown by about 22 percent since 2000, according to census data. The census estimates the city’s 2011 population at 21,400.

Jones also said leadership on the county level has been instrumental in keeping North Augusta growing even through the economic slowdown.

When Savannah River Site began shedding jobs in the early 1990s, county officials worked to diversify its economic base, recruiting other industry, such as the Bridgestone tire plant.

“They said we don’t need to let SRS be the sole driver of economic development in Aiken County,” Jones said.

He also noted how bringing in big retailers, such as Lowe’s and Wal-Mart, helped drive even more growth and business development.

“Now people don’t have to get in their cars and immediately go to Augusta for everything,” he said.

Riverfront hub

Jones expects the city’s growth to continue and the riverfront development is no small part of that plan.

The Project Jackson development proposal includes a 200-room resort-style hotel and conference center modeled after Hampton Terrace, a North Augusta winter resort that burned in 1916; as many as four restaurants; 75 townhouses; 225 apartments; 30,000 square feet of retail space; 40,000 square feet of office space; and 900 parking spaces.

Under the proposal, the city would be responsible for about 30 percent of the financing, about $43 million for the sports and entertainment center, conference center, and parking garage. In exchange, private developers promise $122 million in investment for the hotel, retail, residential and office space in addition to the already-announced new riverfront Family Y, officials said.

Simkins said the baseball stadium is just an enhancement to plans that were already in the works. Jones said the plans are still in the early stages, with many steps to complete before any shovels start turning earth. Simkins said that’s what he expects and he wouldn’t have it another way.

“They are strict. They are very rigid about some things, but they are fair,” Simkins said of city officials. “If they say they are going to do something, they will do it. The cooperative spirit here is really great.”

The stage is set

Carolyn Myers agrees. The new owner of the Brick Pond Market on Crystal Lake Drive said she had originally planned to open her restaurant and neighborhood market in the fall, but those plans went on hold while working through several issues with city inspectors.

“Actually, I like it that way,” said Myers, who opened her doors last week. “They are slow, but sure, and they really helped me. They were great to work with.”

Brett Brannon, a partner in Georgialina Physical Therapy and other businesses, said he too had a positive experience with his development project, Jackson Square, a 30,000-square-foot commercial building at the corner of Georgia and Buena Vista avenues. That project was completed in 2007 and is 100 percent occupied by businesses that were new to the downtown area, Brannon said.

“The city for us has been very reasonable to work with,” he said.

He and his partners have since acquired more property, including the former North Augusta Star newspaper building across the street.

Brannon said he sees more growth in the near future, not just on the riverfront and downtown but in other areas, such as the Palmetto Parkway interchange on Interstate 20.

“Quite honestly they have planned well,” Brannon said of city leadership.

“You go back several mayors and you can see that they have laid good ground work,” he said. “They have taken an approach that they are not raising taxes and development will take care of itself. I think it has served them well.”

NORTH AUGUSTA IMPROVEMENTS
YEARPROJECTCOST
2002Georgia Avenue streetscaping$1.7 million
2009Municipal Center$20 million
2010Community Center renovation$500,000
2011Greeneway extension$400,000
2012West Avenue streetscaping$2.5 million
2012Riverview Park improvements$6 million
Comments (24) Add comment
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Riverman1
84011
Points
Riverman1 01/12/13 - 07:40 pm
10
2
Richmond County Could Learn

The various Richmond County development authorities could learn greatly from North Augusta. I'd fire the whole mess of authority employees in Augusta.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 01/12/13 - 08:58 pm
9
3
North Augusta Cleaned up it acts decades ago.

I agree with Riverman1
Yes Augusta could learn a lot from North Augusta.

City planning instead of $$$ Pocket planning.
Viable dreams not pipe Dreams like a Masters Botanical Garden.
Saving for the future, not just Taxing and spending more as we go.

Yes there are a lot of things Augusta could learn, but as long as the Power Brokers have access to the taxpayers funds there is no hope.

curly123053
4671
Points
curly123053 01/12/13 - 10:07 pm
7
1
Richmond County's Government is Stagnant

The difference between the Richmond County Commission and any of the government bodies in Aiken County and also Columbia County is like night and day. Everyone on the Richmond County Commission is more interested in their little pet projects or own agendas instead of what will grow the county as a whole. While the Aiken County Council is not perfect you do not have council members stalling worthy projects due to racial lines or district boundaries. If it's something that would benefit the entire county it usually gets done. Same with Columbia Couty's Government body, and everybody is wondering why the people are leaving Richmond County for neighboring counties !! All the other government bodies are being run in a stable manner. From Aiken City Council to North Augusta City Council to the Aiken County and Columbia County government bodies compared to the circus that goes on in Richmond County's government half of the time.
Richmond County citizens who desire to have a pro-growth and harmonious county governing body will continue to relocate to neighboring counties with mature grown-ups running the government bodies.
The North Augusta City Council members are mature level headed adults and should make the baseball project a success for the city.

Little Lamb
46022
Points
Little Lamb 01/12/13 - 10:12 pm
3
5
Cart, Meet Horse

Let's not count our chickens before they hatch. The city will have to float municipal bonds to pay for the parking deck, the conference center, and the ballpark. They will have to submit a referendum to the citizens. Let's wait until the citizens speak as to whether they want to commit to that much bonded indebtedness.

wbbh
69
Points
wbbh 01/13/13 - 12:24 am
3
2
“We have not had a property

“We have not had a property tax increase in 21 years,” that will change when and if this new ball field is built and is just as empty as the ball field already in Augusta. But, hey, it will only 43 million we need to dig up.

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 01/13/13 - 12:40 am
3
9
The same story every day.

Why can't North Augusta grow, and Augusta succeed too? Every single day on the Chronicle we hear the sky is falling in Augusta. The GGHF site belonged to the state of GA, and will have student dorms/performing arts center/research buildings very soon.

How are those public projects in North Augusta(all the way back up to 2002) considered better than the $100 million Kroc Center, $70 million judicial center, $20 million library, $38 TEE Center, $12 million parking deck, $10 million sheriffs office, demolishing of Gilbert Manor($112 million dental school & $76 million medical commons) Underwood demolishing($30 millon Walton Oak), etc. All of the developments in Augusta happen within the last three years.

I can't understand how any county in the US with the $172 million Starbucks, $115 million Rockwood, $76 million Medical Commons, etc under construction could have nothing POSITIVE going on. Why did those companies relocate to Augusta if everything is so bad?

Nobody is leaving Richmond County for the surrounding counties either. There are zero facts to back up this false claim unless you mean a couple of people. All you have to do is follow the commercial growth which is based on residential growth.

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 01/13/13 - 01:21 am
4
10
The truth will set you free!

The development authority of Richmond County managed to attract companies like the $40 million ADP, $30 million T-Mobile, ESI headquarters, Bennett International, Rural Sourcing, $115 million Rockwood, $172 million Starbucks, etc over the last few years.

But we should fire the members of the authority and replace them with the officials from North Augusta?

What major companies/industry have the authorities of North Augusta attracted?

I'm sure certain leaders in North Augusta deserve credit, but please let's be realistic. The same thing goes for Columbia County, and bringing in mostly big box stores over the last few years.

I'll let you guys have your fun, but don't hide when the Augusta Corporate Park, Village at Riverwatch, etc make their upcoming announcements. I would love to hear the daily sky is falling comments then. If you want the metro/CSRA to equal it's full potential then Augusta must lead the way.

GnipGnop
12240
Points
GnipGnop 01/13/13 - 01:23 am
10
2
I think one advantage NA has is...

They don't screw their own citizens to line their buddies pockets. They don't skirt their responsibilities and abstain and vote present. They are grown ups that want their ENTIRE town to be equal not one side of town paying a higher tax rate than the other. Augusta had better get it together and soon!

Riverman1
84011
Points
Riverman1 01/13/13 - 03:11 am
10
2
"The truth will set you free."

Quoting the Bible when talking about Augusta. Maybe we need more of that. But the truth about some of the industries that have moved to Richmond County over the years is that they were seeking cheap land with a cheap work force. Nothing wrong with that, but I'm just saying...Of course, property taxpayers in Richmond County don't think their land is cheap.

Fire every last Richmond Cty development authority member in all the various authorities. They do nothing more than comment on message boards and take trips to Germany.

Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 01/13/13 - 05:13 am
5
2
I agree with GnipGnop, plus,

I agree with GnipGnop, plus, Augusta has a median income of $37,231 and a poverty level of 16.8%, while N. Augusta's is $45,600 and 11.0%.

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 01/13/13 - 09:05 am
0
0
I was born in Augusta, raised
Unpublished

I was born in Augusta, raised in Martinez, lived overseas with the military and a handful of states after the military. When I finally got around to moving back to the CSRA and bought my first house, I bought it in North Augusta. I had family and friends make fun of me for moving across the river- but I have been happy here ever since then. Now with all the new things in the horizon I don't see myself moving back to the GA side any time soon.

Just My Opinion
5633
Points
Just My Opinion 01/13/13 - 09:30 am
5
0
Cudos to our neighbor, North

Cudos to our neighbor, North Augusta! Seems like you just kept your heads down and worked hard at progressing. It is rare when the paper has anything derogatory going on in the political workings of your city and that is certainly something the folks in downtown Augusta could use as an example. Keep up the good work and I look forward to your future!

seenitB4
87304
Points
seenitB4 01/13/13 - 09:45 am
9
1
I'm choking on my coffee now

When ctyman says this

Nobody is leaving Richmond County for the surrounding counties either

Is he trying to kill me......

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 01/13/13 - 01:44 pm
1
5
The truth will set you free!

Riverman will spin anything he can in order to take shots at Richmond County. He used to share with the public how all three of the Food Lions closed in Columbia County, because their upscale shoppers. When in fact both Harlem and Grovetown have IGA, and Grovetown is building another IGA grocery store(KJ Market).

Some of he land in South Augusta maybe cheaper, but
ADP, T-Mobile, Global Emergency Resource, Convergent, etc all moved to West Augusta.

Please explain too me how the land in West Augusta is cheaper versus North Augusta? If everything revolves around cheap land then why didn't they move into North Augusta? Even without certain neighborhoods West Augusta is still much richer than North Augusta.

Trulia real estate prices.
1. West Augusta $243k
2. North Augusta $192K

Rural Sourcing, ESI, etc all moved downtown. Please explain too me how the land is cheaper than North Augusta?

1.Central Business District $204k
2. North Augusta $192k

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 01/13/13 - 02:49 pm
1
4
Augusta is doing great!

Tech Fan.... Augusta is consolidated with a large portion of the county. It's basically comparing one area of Aiken County versus an entire county. Please don't become similar to Riverman on here. Those stats concerning Richmond County are based on the year 2000 from the Wikipedia page.

The 2010 census had the median income of Richmond County at $39k.

Keep in mind developers look at West Augusta, Summerville, Forest Hills, etc separately. This is exactly why the Village at Riverwatch(i.e Costco) will attract things North Augusta will NEVER have anytime soon.

The residents of West Augusta, Summerville, Forest Hills, etc would die if they only made $45k.

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 01/13/13 - 02:30 pm
1
5
Seenitb4.... Please provide

Seenitb4.... Please provide your source? Why are so many new commercial developments underway/coming if people are leaving? I used to live in Columbia County before moving to Richmond County. People move from the surrounding counties to Richmond all the time. There's no large group of people leaving Richmond in 2013.

According to business journals Richmond went from 200,549(April 2010) to 203,152(April 2012).

I keep trying to share with you guys that South Augusta is no longer losing people similar to 2000-2005. Which in return attracts things like Five Guys, and the riverfront mix use community near the airport.

seenitB4
87304
Points
seenitB4 01/13/13 - 02:09 pm
3
1
heh heheh

The game is ooon & I ain't got time for fun facts withya...you know the truth! bye bye

seenitB4
87304
Points
seenitB4 01/13/13 - 02:12 pm
3
0
answer this why doncha

How much prppertydo you actually own in Richmond county....& how much do YOU pay in taxes in Richmnd county....

gotta go...property (sp)

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 01/13/13 - 03:24 pm
0
0
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Unpublished

“Over the last 15 years, first and foremost, we have moved out of the shadow of Augusta and carved our own identity,” said Jones.

Out of the dismal swamp of lies and corruption is more like it.

ARC has no leadership. ARC cannot move forward because of the giant mill stone of government bureaucracy that weighs it down. Always has, always will. From the time the military gave control of most of the town to private citizens. GREED has ruled. ARC provides a steady diet of government taxpayer fund, revenue and grants that line the pockets of its leadership and their friends. From the days of Bob Best to the current West Lake crowd. Sure, countyman, a few crumbs are left along the sidewalks for the little people. And you and your fellow cronies never let ARC taxpayers forget the money YOU yes YOU have spent to better their lives. Hog wash!! The 40% who are still funding through county taxes are not blind. From annexation to consolidation to revitalizing the CBD the taxpayers have been raped and pillaged. Everything you mentioned only benefits politicians, developers, realtors and concrete/asphalt salesman. The true one percenters.
If the citizens of ARC wanted theaters on Broad St., they would be private, populated and profitable. Not elite, few, well healed and in need of charity drives.

Where are Robin Hood and his merry men when we need them? We forgot, that was a fantasy show. Like the ARC of the greedy covenant.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 01/13/13 - 04:06 pm
5
1
Countyman I provided a link

Countyman I provided a link over a week ago regarding population growth. People are NOT flocking to the area at all.

seenitB4
87304
Points
seenitB4 01/13/13 - 04:40 pm
3
0
change the posts ctyman

Changing words on us ctyman.....hhahah

I haven't seen a flock there...I know a flock when I see a flock!

bdouglas
5034
Points
bdouglas 01/13/13 - 04:47 pm
4
1
Countyman forgot to mention

Countyman forgot to mention the Sprint Foods & Metro Market or whatever it's called in his standard copy and paste project list this time. I'm shocked!

Riverman1
84011
Points
Riverman1 01/13/13 - 07:12 pm
4
1
It’s the Sprint Foods and

It’s the Sprint Foods and Metro Market with their corporate offices in the upstairs room in an upcoming area that’s diversified and gay friendly attracting upwards of 10,000 visitors a week to the Riverwalk who will ride buses all over downtown until 3 AM.

oldredneckman96
5095
Points
oldredneckman96 01/13/13 - 07:47 pm
0
0
When in Rome, and not Rome, Ga.
Unpublished

Even during the decline and end of Rome, the politicians poured money into the Coliseums hoping to placate the masses. It worked too, just not for the long term good of Rome.

GnipGnop
12240
Points
GnipGnop 01/13/13 - 09:12 pm
0
1
I never see

him address the horrible property tax system nor the shenanigans of the commission. Businesses coming does not mean population growth. People that make a decent living are going to live where the best schools are..with the exception of the magnet schools (which only accept the best students) and maybe one or two ARC areas the school system is atrocious!!

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 01/14/13 - 12:20 am
1
1
The truth will set you free!

Continue to believe the hype, but the truth is the graduation rate at Cross Creek(South Augusta) is higher than Grovetown.

GnipGnop
12240
Points
GnipGnop 01/14/13 - 08:52 am
0
0
How bout the rest of the school system?

You're blinded by your loyalty for whatever ARC government office you work for...

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