After a South Carolina couple were brutally beaten May 3 on Riverwalk Augusta, city leaders and residents called for major safety and aesthetic improvements at the downtown park along the Savannah River.
An improvement plan was created to fix broken lighting, trim shrubbery and trees, create more family friendly activities and increase police activity at the riverwalk.
Nearly four months after the call to action, some work has started but much of the plan remains to be seen or completed.
Augusta Parks, Recreations and Facilities Director Bob Levine said the riverwalk is discussed weekly in Monday staff meetings. Work has not progressed as fast as possible, he said, partially because rains in early July flooded the lower level.
“It’ll be good to get us energized to get us doing the right thing. We are trying to develop a sense of urgency to get repairs done,” Levine said.
Wesley Spires and Ashley Solesbee were sitting on a bench on the upper level of the riverwalk May 3 when two men, one using an aluminum bat, attacked the couple. Both suffered facial bone fractures, and Spires spent months in the hospital with life-threatening head injuries.
On Aug. 24, Kevin D. Richardson and Robey E. Moses pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal attempt to commit murder and two counts of armed robbery in the attack.
One of the largest components of the plan was spending about $183,000 to remove trees and raise limbs on 300 trees to improve visibility and security. The tree work must go out to bid, so Levine said work won’t begin until at least December.
Another part of the plan was to re-lamp and clean all light fixtures along the brick paths, many of which were broken.
City traffic engineer Steve Cassell, whose department was tasked with fixing the lights, said the work was started but not completed. A special lift needed to reach the lights broke and is being repaired. Cassell said lights on the lower level between Sixth and Eighth streets still need repairs.
Levine said there is already a noticeable difference at the riverwalk and the area is brighter because of lighting and some tree work. Eventually, he
wants to replace all fixtures with energy-efficient LED lights.
Crews corrected any inoperable low-level lighting inset into brick walls and fixed broken drinking fountains, except one where work would take longer to fix a broken water line. Materials were ordered for masonry work such as missing bricks and cracked granite paving.
“It’s an ongoing process. Some things can happen. Some things have to wait till next year,” Levine said.
Improvements that must wait include events and activities that need to be included in next year’s budget.
Levine said the department wants to find a promoter for the Jessye Norman Amphitheater at Ninth Street to get more events at the venue. A request for qualifications is being prepared, he said.
Soon, a part-time department staff member will start walking the riverwalk during weekday evenings and some hours on weekends, Levine said. The worker, who will wear a shirt identifying themselves as a staff member, will inspect bathrooms, empty trash barrels, check for spilled trash and make work orders for any
larger repairs. The worker will be trained to notify police about any security issues.
“We have to keep our eye on the ball and not forget as things deteriorate, we have to keep fixing them,” he said.
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office said it has increased police presence at the riverwalk and downtown since the May incident.
Two officers, primarily patrolling on foot, were added to downtown, splitting their shift between Broad Street and the riverwalk, said Sgt. Shane McDaniel. The
added patrols increased manpower in the area by 50 percent.
Deputies working their regular shifts downtown are encouraged to make multiple visits to the riverwalk during a shift, McDaniel said.