Masters Tournament visitors might be surprised to see so much undeveloped and underdeveloped land along Augusta’s riverfront downtown.
Join the club. We’re just as surprised.
One of the centerpieces of our riverscape was to be a lush, pastoral Golf and Gardens and Georgia Golf Hall of Fame along Reynolds Street that would’ve paid tribute to this city’s abiding kinship with the revered sport. The roots for it were planted, and it began to grow, but as with many grand plans, economic
caprice stepped in.
But what an incredible opportunity the land still presents. It has to be one of the most prime riverfront plots available east of the Mississippi.
Suddenly, after years of allowing nature to take over the site, destiny has taken a hand.
The Georgia General Assembly, which controls the 16-acre parcel, last week agreed to turn the land over to the University System of Georgia – just as Augusta’s Georgia Health Sciences University is set to merge with Augusta State University.
GHSU President Ricardo Azziz, who will head up the combined university, is as visionary a leader as you could ask for, and he has no shortage of ideas for the site. At a recent meeting with local officials and others, Azziz talked of “innovative, creative things: a performing arts center that dovetails with a school of music; an innovation center that dovetails with the sciences; some higher-level student housing that is very attractive ...” A biotech park also has been bandied about.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver also has supported a multi-use
stadium that would be a new home to the Augusta Greenjackets minor league baseball team as well as other events. Thus far, Azziz seems open to the possibility that a stadium could be part of the mix.
This newspaper remains adamantly opposed to that, particularly if high-end student housing is a component. As young and energetic as they are, even students need sleep – particularly medical students, it seems to us.
It’s amusing now to recall that Azziz last year created such a controversy with a throw-away remark at a Rotary meeting about how Augusta needs to be “cool” to be attractive to GHSU students and faculty. Of course he was right. And now, with impending sway over the former Golf and Gardens land, Azziz may have the power at his fingertips to make that happen.
Certainly, a greater collegiate presence downtown would go a long way toward that. Having more students live, work, eat, play and liven up downtown could further energize the local economy and climate.
We would simply urge Dr. Azziz and others involved to keep in mind that, with great power – and a pregnant plot of land – comes great responsibility. The most important ingredient in whatever is cooked up on the river may be the most intangible: What is this precious land’s highest and best use?
We hope the community will be deeply involved in finding just the right recipe.