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Historic Augusta mills might become GRU campus expansion

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Artist concept of mill project
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 1:58 PM
Last updated Thursday, March 28, 2013 2:41 AM
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City officials are pitching the idea of redeveloping two historic textile mills into educational and housing space for the expansion of the Georgia Regents University campus.

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Sibley Mill could be redeveloped for Georgia Regents University's use. "It looks like a university," said Canal Authority Chairman Richard Isdell. "People would come here and think, golly, it's an old school."  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Sibley Mill could be redeveloped for Georgia Regents University's use. "It looks like a university," said Canal Authority Chairman Richard Isdell. "People would come here and think, golly, it's an old school."

Mayor Deke Copenhaver said Wednesday that the Augusta Regional Collaboration Project developed the idea last year to restore the former Sibley and King mills, both of which are owned by Augusta Canal Authority.

“We presented this to Dr. Azziz and his cabinet on Monday and they seemed receptive,” Copenhaver said.

“Obviously this is in its infancy, and no decisions have been made.”

Copenhaver said the mills’ proximity to GRU’s medical campus and to 2,000 acres of permanently protected greenspace would make the area particularly attractive to students.

“Every 18-year-old with a mountain bike and a kayak would be very interested,” the mayor said.

Copenhaver, Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson and commissioners Mary Davis, Donnie Smith and Alvin Mason attended GRU president Ricardo Azziz’s cabinet meeting Monday for the concept presentation.

“This has the full support of the commission. ... That was encouraging,” said Davis, who has worked for both Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University – now being consolidated by the Georgia Board of Regents into Georgia Regents University.

Davis called the “mills campus” concept a unique, innovative idea that will make Augusta a model for other institutions and helps accommodate the consolidated university’s growth by 6,000 or more students.

“People would be calling us from around the nation, and we’d be one of a kind,” she said.

Plus, it provides an ideal direction to expand near the Savannah River, downtown and the city’s existing downtown medical district, as the university’s “Summerville Campus” in her District 3 is landlocked, she said.

The two mill properties comprise some 1 million square feet of real estate located within the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area and adjacent to Au­gusta’s Salvation Army Kroc Center and the former mill villages of Harrisburg and West End.

Davis said the city is pitching the properties as potential research labs, classroom space and student housing for GRU students, and said several GRU officials appeared “excited” about the proposal Monday.

In a statement, Azziz said the project was subject to Regents’ approval but that he wanted to learn more.

“The scenarios presented today could potentially allow GRU to expand its footprint in Augusta and enhance our ability to provide quality education to our students in an economically and environmentally sustainable presence for the university and the city of Augusta,” Azziz said. “We have established a strong relationship with the city, and I look forward to hearing more about this potential collaboration.”

Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith said the project was a game-changer for Augusta.

“I don’t think communities get the opportunity to do things of this nature very often,” Smith said. “It will change the face of our city and the economy of the downtown area for a long time to come.”

The project includes the creation of a GRU corridor from the university-owned Kroger shopping center on 15th Street, set for redevelopment, across the canal and left along Broad Street to the mill properties.

“We’ll connect that all together,” Smith said.

Canal Authority Chairman Richard Isdell said the authority viewed the project as an ideal use for the historic properties it has preserved for such purposes.

Isdell said several GRU and Regents officials already have toured the mill buildings and that the governor’s office also was aware of the proposal.

“GRU just doesn’t really have the campus now, it’s just downtown buildings, and this would give them that,” Isdell said. “It looks like a university. People would come here and think, golly, it’s an old school.”

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Little Lamb
46885
Points
Little Lamb 03/27/13 - 02:04 pm
6
3
Expansion

The question Dr. Azziz must ask himself is, “What would Dr. Shirley Kenny do?”

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 03/27/13 - 02:05 pm
3
1
meh

Build the Cancer Center then I'll take you serious when I see "mills might becomes dorms". Til then, yawn.

Little Lamb
46885
Points
Little Lamb 03/27/13 - 02:07 pm
4
1
School Board

Hey, get the school board in on the action and have them donate the old Davidson school property to Grooo.

Cameron Poe
933
Points
Cameron Poe 03/27/13 - 02:19 pm
8
1
“We presented this to Dr.

“We presented this to Dr. Azziz and his cabinet on Monday and they seemed receptive,”

Of course he was receptive. Who wouldn't be receptive of the city continually throwing potentially prime real estate at them to do as they please?

Fiat_Lux
15901
Points
Fiat_Lux 03/27/13 - 02:22 pm
5
0
Little Lamb @2:04

So on target, and I'm laughing myself hoarse!

countyman
20581
Points
countyman 03/27/13 - 02:32 pm
4
2
The city is being responsible.

Where is the private developer rushing to buy Sibley Mill and turn the property into the next Enterprise Mill(residential, office, restaurant, retail).

The return investments are much greater than the initial sacrifice. The demolishing of Gilbert Manor resulted in the $112 million dental school, and the $76 million Medical Commons under construction.

Those old mills take a whole lot of capital in order to renovate them. I don't mind if King Mill is demolished, but hopefully GRU can renovate the Sibley Mill.

I'm definitely in favor of GRU expanding compared to holding onto underused properties. The bus terminal on Broad for example absolutely does nothing for the city of Augusta.

Littlelamb. I believe the non profit Artspace maybe still interested in the old Davidson school. I would go ahead and demolished the historic structure if they didn't want it.

bentman
458
Points
bentman 03/27/13 - 02:30 pm
5
1
The power grab continues.

The power grab continues.

Gage Creed
17856
Points
Gage Creed 03/27/13 - 02:38 pm
5
1
The oracle has

The oracle has spoken.....beware the Ides of March + 12 days

walrus4ever
354
Points
walrus4ever 03/27/13 - 02:39 pm
7
1
Better keep an eye on the

Better keep an eye on the chimney.It means as much to the pc'ers as the ASU heritage.

Riverman1
86836
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Riverman1 03/27/13 - 03:02 pm
3
0
Go for it.

Go for it unless spreading over the downtown area is best.

REDRIDER
134
Points
REDRIDER 03/27/13 - 03:14 pm
7
1
Trade for Golf and Gardens coming?

Looks Like a trade deal coming.

Thethirdjq
214
Points
Thethirdjq 03/27/13 - 03:20 pm
3
0
No way the canal authority is

No way the canal authority is on board for development on the canal as seen in the rendering. It would jeopardize their funding.

Little Lamb
46885
Points
Little Lamb 03/27/13 - 03:21 pm
5
1
G&G

I think REDRIDER has it right. The city has been salivating over the 13th & Reynolds property for a long time.

countyman
20581
Points
countyman 03/27/13 - 03:46 pm
4
4
Harrisburg= up & coming

The Chronicle decided to remove my other comment, and they now have the rendering after I mentioned the WJBF article.

Over $60 million is included in the 2014 state budget for the $100 million Cancer center/crosswalk over 15th(expected to begin late 2013).

The Sibley Mill and Kroc Center together will change Harrisburg forever.

LeConteSkier
544
Points
LeConteSkier 03/27/13 - 03:53 pm
4
0
Bus Terminal

County Man, the bus terminal maybe should also be sold to GRU for the college shuttle bus terminal so that you have a dedicated shuttle rout for the downtown campus and dedicated routes for the uptown (summerville & Wrighsboro rd) campus. College students moving into Harrisburg may just be the ticket to reviving that area. The small houses might be too small for the urban professional which the Olde Towne Area and Laney Walker Area could maybe become the young urban professional hotspot and the Harrisburg Area which is equal distance from the Uptown and Downtown Campus is a perfect location for college students.

Fiat_Lux
15901
Points
Fiat_Lux 03/27/13 - 04:41 pm
5
0
Yeah. The change will come just as soon as...

the predators and other assorted drains on society move out of the area and it becomes safe.

But think for a moment about Savannah. The whole of the downtown area is an historic district with an ultra-cool college right in its heart, including dorms in some pretty darn dicey areas. People are regularly mugged and there have been some incredibly awful murders of young people in that area, several of them as part of muggings. Savannah has ongoing problems with crime in an extremely pricy area, and from what I gather, it is escalating.

If Savannah, with all its forward thinking and effort to reclaim its history urban area has these problems, how in the world do Countyman and all the other wild-eyed optimists conclude Augusta would fare better? It won't, no matter how much we would like it to be wonderful and safe and reclaimed.

my.voice
4914
Points
my.voice 03/27/13 - 04:53 pm
6
1
One problem I see with the

One problem I see with the concept. The bridge over the Canal is a mistake. The Canal serves as a "mote" to protect the mill from Harrisburg. At least make it a draw bridge.

LeConteSkier
544
Points
LeConteSkier 03/27/13 - 05:02 pm
1
1
The Canal Bridge

The bridge is good as Harrisburg will turn into an area similar to Columbia's 5 points as the college expands and students move into that area. Harrisburg will not be the same Harrisburg in 5 to 10 yrs. Once crime ridden neighborhoods in and around Athens have also changed as the college expanded.

countyman
20581
Points
countyman 03/27/13 - 05:12 pm
2
3
Change is not easy

Fiat Lux... Do you visit the Kroc Center? The Kroc Center is located even closer to Harrisburg, and continues to thrive. Let's not forget the 25 acre commercial development, the Cookout restaurant at 1801 Walton Way, free Wi Fi access, new Veggie truck, etc are coming in/around Harrisburg. The MCG foundation owns the Kroger shopping center, and other parcels in the neighborhood(to be demolished).

The side of Harrisburg facing Summerville(between Eve/Milledge) is mostly full of manicured lawns. The other side going towards 15th street needs the makeover. I don't believe anybody thinks crime will magically go away, but increased foot traffic/additional lighting/campus security, etc will make a huge difference.

The FBI violent crime of Augusta is lower compared to Savannah. The crime rate in Augusta continues to decrease. SCAD is a huge benefit to downtown Savannah, and outweighs any negatives associated with crime. The Harrisburg area definitely can't improve by doing nothing, and the city must begin somewhere.

Fiat_Lux
15901
Points
Fiat_Lux 03/27/13 - 06:08 pm
5
1
Believe me, Countyman,

I would love to move to Harrisburg for many reasons, but my family would decline to go with me. I'd really like to walk and ride my bike to the places where I spend most of my week instead of spending $50+ each week on my driving alone. And I too believe the area will "come back", eventually.

I guarantee you that Rusty Ross and his family don't believe for one minute that SCAD outweighs a single negative associated with crime in the downtown area of Savannah. Part of why we may have, literally, dodged the bullet up to now on the amount of violence Savannah experiences is because we don't have anything like the level of opportunity being presented to the predators that happens every single night in Savannah.

People who make good targets just don't go down to Harrisburg or the Augusta CBD in droves every night and on weekends like they do in Savannah. If those areas of Augusta become target-rich environments, the predatory class will make it their business to avail themselves of the opportunities.

If there is a way or a plan to prevent that downside of increasing the affluence of those areas, I would love to hear about it.

Fiat_Lux
15901
Points
Fiat_Lux 03/27/13 - 06:20 pm
5
1
Besides,

student housing is not the right use of those spaces.

Those mills have so much more potential as business and power producing sites, and letting ASU/MCG have them pulls them off the tax rolls, depriving Richmond County of potential goldmines that we truly need.

Student housing should be in places like the Partridge Inn and the Bon Air, especially the Bon Air. It would upgrade that facility immediately just by moving out some of the current criminal element residents or the criminals who come to hang out there.

Fiat_Lux
15901
Points
Fiat_Lux 03/27/13 - 06:39 pm
3
1
Ahhhh

My numbskull red thumb troll has arrived. No comment to refute or debate anything. Just disapproval.

How nice.

Sweet son
10729
Points
Sweet son 03/27/13 - 08:27 pm
3
1
Unbelievable! STOP!

Get the Commission and Board of Regents off of Azziz's roller coaster and stop spending money until he proves all of his empire building can be graded as positive for the learning process and positive for the community!

Willie Loman
267
Points
Willie Loman 03/27/13 - 09:55 pm
3
1
Visionary thinking...

...get used to it. Seems like a great way to revitalize the area. Kudos to the ARC Commission for providing some "out of the box" thinking. Way better than a drag strip!!!

Riverman1
86836
Points
Riverman1 03/28/13 - 06:55 am
2
0
Fiat Lux is right

Fiat Lux said, "Besides,

student housing is not the right use of those spaces.

Those mills have so much more potential as business and power producing sites, and letting ASU/MCG have them pulls them off the tax rolls, depriving Richmond County of potential goldmines that we truly need."

Student housing should be in places like the Partridge Inn and the Bon Air, especially the Bon Air. It would upgrade that facility immediately just by moving out some of the current criminal element residents or the criminals who come to hang out there."

That's actually the best idea and something I've said before, too. But these mills are sitting empty and sometimes free land trumps location.

soapy_725
43757
Points
soapy_725 03/28/13 - 07:17 am
0
0
But it is progress !!!! PROgress is good. CONgress is bad.
Unpublished

All progress is good !!! Progress toward having the government owning all of the prime real estate in the county. Progress is having having the ARC real estate and development board making millions spending tax payers dollars. Selling private property to the government and then selling them on massive construction projects. Playing with house money, so to speak. Low risk development/investing when it is someone else money.

This current version of the ARC Mafia, led by the Boardman-Coperhaver Family has discovered "government construction with taxpayer dollars". Seems they are big fans of the Soprano's even if they are represented by a high tenor.

nocnoc
44811
Points
nocnoc 03/28/13 - 07:28 am
2
1
Aren't the Mills on the

Aren't the Mills on the Historical Site Registry?

This has Power Brokers plus Political maneuvering written all over it.

Rob Pavey
552
Points
Rob Pavey 03/28/13 - 08:47 am
3
0
it's not widely known, but......

the sibley property also includes waterfront land on the Savannah River - it was cut off when Riverwatch Parkway was built. One of the earlier Sibley Mill development ideas included a cool feature: housing and office space in the mill area on the canal, and a pedestrian tunnel beneath Riverwatch to access a small esplanade-park on the river. It takes deep pockets, of course, to create such an amenity, so maybe it could be part of a university campus plan.

GIJane
14
Points
GIJane 03/28/13 - 10:23 am
1
2
It AMAZES me how MCG is in

It AMAZES me how MCG is in debt of 2million dollars yet, they somehow find the funds to 1. move personnel from one campus to another (supposedly to integrate, but reality is MCG's business office nees to stay on their campus and ASU's should stay on their campus)2. Renovate buildings on ASU campus and offices that have previously been renovated -and their not even done, they want to renovate 2 more buildings 3. NOW purchase the old Mill's buildings & renovate them as well? Yet their employees in the "Summerville"-that's ASU campus folks, have to wait 2 more years for raises and that's not even a gaurantee. You would think one would want to get himself out of debt first before making such drastic changes & wasting money. And if you haven't guessed already-I am sure tuition is on the rise-how else will they help fund these renovations and buildings?

Not to mention that they are going to require students to have higher GPA to be accepted, which hinders alot of locals who have potential, who may have "messed up" their first semester, may struggled in highschool..or hinder those who seek an education that has NOTHING to do with Science. Supposedly the decisions being made look past the present and into the future but if you steer students away from a once LIBERAL ARTS college, your future is bleak.

Perhaps these constant GRU emails updating employees may seem like a good idea & an upkeep of moral but in reality those of us who are on the ASU campus roll our eyes in disgust because there is such disregard for us over here. This merger seems more like a bad marriage more than anything.

itsanotherday1
45308
Points
itsanotherday1 03/28/13 - 10:38 am
4
0
Personally

I like the thinking. The costs, implementation, etc. may be a whole separate discussion; but the vision for the future is beginning to gel in my mind.

I hate to admit it (not really-just a figure of speech), but Countyman's view for the future is beginning to take shape. LOL.

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