Building a future on our past

University expansion proposal not just any run-of-the-mill idea

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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.

City officials are proposing the idea of redeveloping the historic Sibley Mill, pictured here, and neighboring King Mill into educational and
housing space for the campus expansion of Georgia Regents University.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
City officials are proposing the idea of redeveloping the historic Sibley Mill, pictured here, and neighboring King Mill into educational and housing space for the campus expansion of Georgia Regents University.

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.

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countyman 04/07/13 - 01:54 am
Augusta= hip, trendy, cosmpolitan

The momentum will soon have to carry over to East Augusta(extending the riverwalk, housing, recreation) Regency Mall(Regional Sports complex), Public Transit(electric buses, new designs, expanded routes, 24hr system but can start with 1-2am), modern street car/light rail in the urban core, small Augusta Exchange in South Augusta(I-520/Windsor Spring/Peach Orchard), major sidewalk/bicycle lanes/landscaping on major roads, 15k to 25k seat arena, amenities outside in walking distance outside of the CBD(Summerville, Midtown, Olde Town, Laney Walker, Harrisburg, Medical District), and mixed-use development in South Augusta(south of Tobacco/Deans Bridge, Mike Padget/Tobacco, or Peach Orchard/Willis Foreman).

Riverman1 04/07/13 - 07:47 am
An Instant Benefit

I’ve long said college expansion in the city is the way to improve Augusta dramatically when others kept pushing the Wrightsboro Rd campus. The mills were not what I expected, but it is a pleasant surprise. The scope of the project is large and transforming.

Surveys by medical students over the nation rate campuses for safety and environment. MCG was next to last when I looked about a year ago. Charleston’s MUSC was ranked second from the top behind a school in Hawaii. These Mill campuses will instantly propel MCG up in the rankings and also help ASU. It's what we needed.

itsanotherday1 04/07/13 - 08:58 am
As I said when first

As I said when first proposed, I am enthused about the mills idea. I can now envision a downtown like I saw in Athens yesterday. As far as safety and crimes are concerned, if we have thousands more students coming here, Harrisburg and other neighborhoods close to the campus will be in demand for off campus housing. The increase in rents will drive out a lot of the criminal element.

countyman 04/07/13 - 12:38 pm
on the move

The 'Mills Campus' and 'Downtown Cultural Campus' will both help, but they won't automatically make the Medical District an safer place to walk.

Additional crosswalks, pedestrian bridges, increased public transit/foot traffic, Laney Walker pedestrian park, etc will decrease the number of pedestrian related accidents.

allhans 04/07/13 - 01:16 pm
I have longed to see growth

I have longed to see growth on upper Broad.. from the lake all the way to downtown. What better direction to go?

Granddaddy John
Granddaddy John 04/07/13 - 03:01 pm
Idiots better do something

Idiots better do something quick,because N.Augusta and Columbia Co are sucking the life blood out of Disugusta.

curly123053 04/07/13 - 03:16 pm
Good Idea

I like the idea of revitalizing the mill buildings because I have seen abandoned mill buildings transformed into apartments in Greenville and Charleston. These old mill buldings are structurally sound and have been transformed successfully in other places. This is a perfect chance for GRU to expand to a convenient location and revitalize a part of Augusta's historic canal area. This project has my vote.

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