The small park features brick walkways, lighting, benches and a large magnolia tree. It’s just large enough for residents to meet, socialize and watch their children play, said Chester Wheeler, the director of Augusta’s housing and community development department.
Heritage Pine is the flagship development of the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem revitalization project, a $37.5 million city investment funded by a special 50-year hotel/motel fee to restore two historic neighborhoods.
“Today is a historic day,” Wheeler told the gathering. “Five years ago, we contemplated where we would be in terms of people coming back to this neighborhood, living in brand-new homes, and having the opportunity to socialize in three pocket parks that we’ve planned. I stand here proudly to say that two of those pocket parks have been completed.”
Nestled between newly constructed houses and duplexes, the pocket park is part of an urban design concept that adds green space to a neighborhood. They are common in urban cities and denser locales.
As soon as they were allowed, 7-year-old Pierce Andrews and his 3-year-old sister, Paige, ran across the street to the park. They chased each other around the trunk of the magnolia that provided shade for a shiny black bench bearing a plaque honoring Betty Beard, who formerly represented District 1 on the Augusta Commission.
The bench is one of five honoring Beard, Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Cedric Johnson, City Administrator Fred Russell and Marion Barnes, each of whom played a key role in revitalization of the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem district.
Revitalization began in 2007 when the commission approved a contentious deal that tied a downtown trade, exhibit and event center (the now-completed expansion of the Augusta Convention Center) to development of low-income areas. Beard helped broker a compromise with then-Commissioner Don Grantham that broke months of political stalemate.
In 2009, the commission was split again when the convention center needed more funding because of escalating design costs and revenue for low-income areas had nearly run dry during an economic recession.
Russell helped make a plan to fund the convention center and the low-income initiative; Copenhaver led a subcommittee on the convention center; and Johnson and Barnes served on the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem Redevelopment Committee.
During the revitalization process, longtime Pine Street resident Adele Randall, who died July 1, lost her home when it was torn down to make way for new construction. Having lived in the neighborhood more than 50 years, she was moved into a new duplex next door. Her address remained the same.
A plaque will soon adorn the magnolia tree, announcing that it is dedicated to the memory of Randall.
“We made sure we honored Ms. Randall for her commitment to this neighborhood,” Wheeler said. “She was someone who was the epitome of a friendly resident on this street.”
Pierce and Paige’s mother, Minimarie Andrews, said the park is a beautiful accent to the community.
She and her husband, Clayton Andrews, bought their Pine Street home in 2010 and were the neighborhood’s first property owners.
“The children and I, this is one of our evening strolls that we do,” Minimarie Andrews said. “It’s very welcoming.”
Pansy Fugghett owns a home next to the park and said it is a beautiful addition to the growing neighborhood, which she called “one of Augusta’s best-kept secrets.”
“I love the tranquility,” she said. “I love the camaraderie with the neighbors, because we all know each other.”
Staff Writer Meg Mirshak contributed to this article.