If you’re advocating a building project that requires a sizable public buy-in, what do you build first?
That’s the chief lesson to take away from the failed mills campus plan.
When backers first floated the idea, it sounded appealing: Convert the shuttered Sibley and King mills into classrooms and housing space as part of a campus expansion of Georgia Regents University.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver thought enough of the idea to found the Augusta Regional Collaboration Project, and to devote more than $300,000 in city funds, and some private ones, to develop it.
But more than a year later, that idea never gained any real traction in the community. GRU’s reaction to the proposal was tepid at best. Taxpayers thought so little of the idea that many of them used the mills proposal as a reason to vote down a new special-purpose local option sales tax in May. Had SPLOST passed, $5.25 million in revenue bonds would have funded downtown land acquisition to flesh out a campus expansion.
Also, stakeholders in this project never firmly agreed or committed. In light of that alone, the mills campus proposal probably shouldn’t even have been made public.
All those factors contributed to the project’s
inertia. But above all, the vision simply wasn’t sold to the community.
Developing the old mills is a superb idea. You won’t find too many parts of the city more pregnant with economic opportunity.
But just because an idea is good doesn’t mean it will be automatically embraced by everyone. That requires relentless salesmanship, and that’s what the mills campus plan unfortunately lacked.
It’s encouraging that Copenhaver and Collaboration Project Director Matt Kwatinetz aren’t giving up on developing this area. But without SPLOST and rousing public support, plans shift back to square one.