We hope Masters week visitors are struck by Augusta’s traditional Southern charm – a proud vestige of days gone by which we’d like to think hangs like Spanish moss from the trees and envelops you like kudzu.
But what many guests may not immediately see is just how profound a metamorphosis is taking place right under the city’s venerable surface.
Ironically, some of our most august and stately buildings have now come to symbolize that dynamic change.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver recently unveiled a proposal for Georgia Regents University in Augusta to convert the historic Sibley and King textile mills into academic space and student housing.
Again, you have to live here to fully appreciate the magnitude of the idea.
For one thing, it would breathe new life into those grand old mills, which once represented the industrial might of the American South but which have fallen forlorn and silent.
It would also help Georgia Regents University grow into the world-class research university state leaders now envision. The result of a still-new merger of Augusta State University and the former Medical College of Georgia, GRU is looking to grow its student population by the thousands. And with many of them concentrated at GRU’s downtown medical campus, the mills’ location is both convenient and fortuitous.
The mills’ proximity to the historic and popular Augusta Canal would be a treat for the students, and would create a pastoral atmosphere – just a bike ride from the heart of downtown.
In the process, the project would bring a vitality to the area not seen since the mills’ own heyday.
And those mills. Those mills! Even in their quietude the grand old ladies cry out that something very important and fortifying should be going on inside. Once, it was building America. Soon, it could be helping build its future.
They more than represent Augusta’s history; they may now also symbolize the city’s destiny.
If you’re just visiting, we encourage you to take in our many heirlooms – historic sites that include the boyhood home of Woodrow Wilson. The Augusta Museum of History is a quick but deep dive into such things as our rich musical history (James Brown) and golf heritage (you have to ask?).
The Augusta “present” is embodied in our new convention center, an impending $172 million Starbucks manufacturing plant, and more.
But if it were possible to plunk down a couple of bucks and tour a city’s potential, you’d also be amazed at the promise that’s only now budding in one of America’s grand old cities. We have prime, undeveloped riverfront land downtown on the cusp of great things, a grand old theater on the way to restoration, a planned state-of-the-art performing arts center and more. Nearby Fort Gordon is vital, and Plant Vogtle to the south will soon be home to the nation’s first new nuclear power reactors in decades.
Many of these projects are, as the mayor notes, game-changers by themselves. Taken together, they’re revolutionary.
The idea to plant the university’s growth in the 1 million square feet of the old mills may be as transformative as any of them.