Up a lazy river

Augusta's stagnant downtown riverfront deserves better

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Augusta has a ton of things going for it.

MICHAEL HOLAHAN/FILE
Augusta’s riverfront and adjacent downtown property are missing much of the needed development to make it a vibrant destination.

Its riverfront isn’t one of them.

That’s sad and it’s strange and it’s a rather large and visible blemish on our community.

You can use the word “disgrace” if you like.

Outside of a couple hotels, a museum, a church, a very few homey restaurants and shops and the new Augusta Convention Center, the downtown riverfront of Georgia’s second-largest city is pretty much a blighted area.

The expansive old Golf and Gardens is defunct and long gone, replaced by a usually overgrown state-owned mess oddly protected from passersby by a very ornate brick wall and stately gate – the chief function of which appears to be to prevent someone from taking a mower and shears to the place.

At the other end of downtown sits the long-idle city-owned depot and its rather extensive barren dirt patch.

In-between is a plot where a television studio used to sit, where today additional unkempt greenery is protected by a fence, albeit a cheap-looking and unsightly chain-link one.

Other than the convention center and hotels and the vibrant St. Paul’s church, there’s next to nothing going on by the river. There are acres and acres and acres of undeveloped or underdeveloped land – some of the most underutilized prime downtown riverfront land in the nation.

The lack of development and vibrancy might even contribute to crime: It’s doubtful a metal bat-wielding thug would’ve felt empowered to beat a couple senseless on the Riverwalk on May 3 if hundreds of others had been around.

There is strength in numbers, and Augusta just doesn’t have the numbers: Nationally, one could statistically expect such an urban core to have 50 percent of the greater region’s residents; Augusta’s core boasts only about 80,000 of the Metropolitan Statistical Area’s 543,738 residents, or about 15 percent of the region’s population.

If you consider the larger Central Savannah River Area as of the 2010 Census, Augusta’s core population is more like 11 percent of the whole.

Those numbers may seem vague and intangible, but a visit to other nearby cities with more thriving downtowns and waterfronts is quite real and positively shocking to the Augustan’s senses. Savannah, as well as Greenville and Charleston, S.C., have bustling waterfronts, and mountain powerhouse Asheville, N.C., likewise shames Augusta for dynamism, tourism, excitement and culture.

It’s not a poke in the eye to say such things about your hometown. It’s a kick in the rear.

“Based on the national data,” says Mayor Deke Copenhaver, “the fact that we don’t have a thriving waterfront with a mix of uses of public spaces, residential options, commercial venues and office spaces to create a critical flow of pedestrian activity is holding back our ability to take advantage of the national trends, particularly from the quality of life perspective. From a property tax and sales tax revenue perspective, it also holds back revenues which could be reinvested in things like public safety. The lost opportunity cost to the city and its citizens is huge.”

The good news is that those national trends indicate people are moving back to America’s cities, after the flight of decades past. The question is, does Augusta have its stuff together sufficiently to take advantage of that trend?

We’d better. The perception, particularly since the May 3 beating on the Riverwalk, is that the riverfront is no place to go, and certainly not after dark.

Yes, you can use the word “disgrace.”

The first step to changing all this is to pull in the same direction – not something our historically racially divided government has been able to do.

But as he prepares to leave office next year, Mayor Copenhaver is thinking more and more about Augusta’s future and his role in its history. He has created the Augusta Regional Collaboration (ARC) Project to work on such issues, and, largely with his own private fundraising, has been able to hire an executive director. The project has been promoting the idea of converting the vacant old mills along the Augusta Canal into potential classroom and living space for students at Georgia Regents University – which would bring a vitality to the area not seen since the heyday of the textile industry.

It seems to us that what’s needed on Augusta’s riverfront and nearby streets is residents; young people; artists’ havens; perhaps a state-of-the-art performing arts center; security; and restaurants and everything else that follows a herd.

For his part – and he’s a lot more scholarly on the subject – ARC’s Executive Director Matthew Kwatinetz lists these priorities among the things Augusta needs to revitalize its riverfront and downtown: “perception (most important), education (for families with children), arts/culture (for youth and empty nesters), park land, transit options, natural beauty/features, jobs, safety – all in the context of quality of life and how much it costs to live there relative to what is gained in quality of life.”

It’s not rocket science; it’s social science. And that’s a lot more down-to-earth understandable.

We know what makes for teeming waterfronts and city cores. And we can see them put into action in other cities.

It’s about time we got cracking on it right here.

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Little Lamb
40055
Points
Little Lamb 06/15/13 - 11:45 pm
3
5

Guru

So this out-of-town guru Matt Kwatinetz says Augusta must

1. Revitalize perception . . . .

2. Revitalize education for families with children . . . .

3. Revitalize arts for youth and empty nesters . . . .

4. Revitalize culture for youth and empty nesters . . . .

5. Revitalize park land . . . .

6. Revitalize transit options . . . .

7. Revitalize natural beauty . . . .

8. Revitalize features . . . .

9. Revitalize jobs . . . .

10. Revitalize safety . . . .

. . . . all in the context of quality of life

. . . . all in the context of how much it costs to live there

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

He is a huckster. He is a charlatan. He is a con man in the mold of Harold Hill (The Music Man). Yes, we've got trouble, right here in River City; and it starts with ‘t’ and that rhymes with ‘p’ and that stands for pool!

Go back from whence you came, Matt.

Riverman1
70312
Points
Riverman1 06/16/13 - 04:02 am
9
1

City Core Population

Not to nitpick, but I disagree that the core population is 80,000. It’s more like that of the old, TRUE, city of 44,000. THAT’S the problem with this river and downtown rejuvenation. The population is spread out from Aiken to Thomson and downtown businesses and populations are shared with those other cities. You can no more expect the small downtown Augusta population to take on huge projects than you could expect Orangeburg to.

Riverman1
70312
Points
Riverman1 06/16/13 - 03:58 am
8
0

Solutions

So how do we work around the numbers? As you said, encourage the arts community by giving them abandoned buildings at low rent. An arts community draws visitors and creates spin-off entertainment.

Concerning expansion of the colleges, encourage them to leap frog out from their campuses over the city as the College of Charleston did. Using the mill campuses has many problems and creating isolated, self-contained communities is one of them. Of course the massive amount of money needed is another. The low number of students at ASU another. Having ASU (and MCG) gradually hopscotch out from its campus toward downtown is the logical and economically feasible way to help the city and the college. A symbiotic relationship.

The best thing to happen to the riverfront in the city in decades is giving that trash strewn land to Savannah Riverkeepers. They are creating a park and possibly a beach without charging the county a dime. I'm hoping small, recreation oriented, businesses will come to that area around the waterfront park. Notice, none of the truly practical solutions cost the county anything. The outlying county has been taxed to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars for the downtown area and that’s beyond enough.

countyman
16776
Points
countyman 06/16/13 - 04:12 am
4
7

Moving forward!

Little Lamb...... Before coming onboard with the city of Augusta. Matt worked on finding the location for the new Starbucks plant. The metro area/CSRA should thank him daily for selecting the property in South Augusta. Starbucks donated $200k to the ARC Project(Cultural/Mills Campuses) and their already proving to be an integral part of this community. This community desperately needs an outside perspective, because some of the locals show apathy & pessimism towards anything trying to improve Augusta.

The media needs to realize the influence they have on the perception. The only time you report on downtown is for three different things. If it bleeds it leads in terms of crime, a major festival/event, or maybe sometime of large private investment. I don't see the daily coverage on the Riverwalk, Candlelight Jazz, Artist Row, daily life in the CBD, etc.

Who's perception is the riverfront is not safe let alone at dark? This very paper just had pictures of the market on the river from Saturday. I expect people to show up for the Candlelight Jazz on Sunday..

It's bad enough we only have the conversations about safety when it comes to high profile areas(downtown, Augusta Mall, etc) when crime happens. The worse part is how none of the interviews have people who actually live downtown featured when something is being reported.

The citizens of Augusta must know that downtown is the heartbeat of the metro. Certain types of companies(white collar jobs) want to be in cosmopolitan, artsy, creative, and vibrant areas. The growth of downtown will bring the white collar office jobs to West Augusta and high paying manufacturing jobs to South Augusta.

countyman
16776
Points
countyman 06/16/13 - 04:53 am
3
8

Another thing is the false

Another thing is the false perception of everybody loving downtown. This causes the same few people to constantly bring up South Augusta. Even though South Augusta has received more than West Augusta, Summerville, Forest Hills, etc in taxpayer funds lately. The leaders in this city just got on the urban core revitalization/gentrification bandwagon, and that's why Charleston, Greenville, Chattanooga, Savannah, etc are so much further ahead. Those cities have invested millions of more dollars in their downtown areas, and started years ago.

The population of the metro is not really spread out, because it's located in three counties. The entire population of Mcduffie County is only 21,633.

Comparing downtown Augusta versus Orangeburg is simply ludicrous. Augusta is the hub of an metro with of 575k(2012 estimate) or CSRA over 700k. The recession killed the Watermark but the project had two condo towers, renovated train depot, Hilton hotels, etc($100 million). The Medical District is located right next door to the CBD, and they"ll grow together in the future. Augusta is also ranked third in the state in terms of annual tourism. There's no way Orangeburg can support Artspace for instance, and downtown Augusta is more than ready for the larger projects.

The population of Richmond County is higher compared to when the 44k population statistic was used in the 90's.

Riverman1
70312
Points
Riverman1 06/16/13 - 06:03 am
7
1

Population of Old City

"The population of Richmond County is higher compared to when the 44k population statistic was used in the 90's."

Ahhh, but the old city population or the core city as the editorial said is what we are talking about. They said 80,000 and I reminded them the old city population was 44,000 and that's not much bigger than Orangeburg's 25,000 population. The census did show county growth of about 10,000 from 1990 to 2000, but stayed about the same from 2000 to 2010. Tell me where new residents to any significant degree are found in the old city boundaries?

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
6405
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 06/16/13 - 06:26 am
9
0

Riverwalk

Safety isn't just from criminals, but also about maintaining what you have and keeping it in a manner that would preclude someone from injuries. With bricks and mortar falling apart, lighting not being relamped or repaired and overgrown landscaping all affecting safety why do we have to wonder? Marion Williams wants this big project above the parking islands downtown. How long will it be before pieces of it fall on someones car or head because it's not maintained. It seems ARC believes build it and they will come, but they forget that it has to be maintained. I have visited many of the cities mentioned here and maintenance is ongoing all day everyday to keep them in top shape and safe. Also Law Enforcement is more than a high profile showing after something happens, it's figured in to keep a visible profile all the time in these areas! Wake up ARC!!!!

KSL
105366
Points
KSL 06/16/13 - 07:11 am
5
1

Riverwalk was great.We came

Riverwalk was great.We came from Aiken many Friday or Saturday nights. Too many useless studies and lack of upkeep? What happened?

Little Lamb
40055
Points
Little Lamb 06/16/13 - 08:04 am
4
1

Industrial Park

countyman posted:

Before coming onboard with the city of Augusta. Matt worked on finding the location for the new Starbucks plant.

Excuse me, but I thought the Starbucks plant was being built in the City of Augusta Industrial Park on Hwy. 56. That park was developed by the city years ago for just such an enterprise. There is a whole city department along with a development authority marketing that industrial park.

Has Matt revealed his plan for revitalizing culture yet, or is he expecting Fred (What, me worry?) Russell to do that?

Little Lamb
40055
Points
Little Lamb 06/16/13 - 08:26 am
4
1

Stop the presses

ACES wrote:

It seems to us that what’s needed on Augusta’s riverfront and nearby streets is . . . perhaps a state-of-the-art performing arts center . . . and everything else that follows a herd.

In the last SPLOST referendum (I can't remember the exact year - - - maybe 2010 or 2011) several million dollars were set aside for construction projects for two performing arts centers — Augusta Mini-theater was one and Symphony Orchestra Augusta (SOA) was the other. SOA is supposed to raise money to be matched by SPLOST money (already being taken from taxpayers every day) to refurbish the Miller Theater into a state of the art performing space. Likewise, Augusta Mini-Theater was to get matching funds to build a performing arts center on its spacious campus. What has happened to those plans? Let's don't tack another performing arts center onto the next SPLOST project list when we haven't had an accounting for these two. Give SOA and Augusta Mini-theater time to deliver.

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 06/16/13 - 09:01 am
0
0

Deke has visions of Kingdom Building.

Unpublished

With his own personal wealth, he he he. With his in laws wealth, he he he. Aw, the things one can conjure up on the back row at First Baptist.

Mixed use. We got mixed use alright. The CBD is the personal "slush fund" for all of the so called public servants in the ARC.

He's stealing public funds, he's stealing public funds, he's stealing public funds.

dichotomy
26538
Points
dichotomy 06/16/13 - 10:58 am
11
1

TaxPAYERS ........The hair

TaxPAYERS ........The hair should be standing up on the back of your neck.

Have you noticed that all of a sudden every day we are get 2 or 3 editorials and letters about developing the riverfront? Why?

The cabal (that owns most of that bordering property) got their TEE center and parking deck. Done deal. The black commissioners got their blackmail trade in the form of all of the Hotel and Motel tax to spend on "redevelopment" for the next half century. Done deal. Now the push is on to get the taxpayers (yes you South Richmond County) to fund another huge downtown project.

I'm all for riverfront development. Any private developer who wants to develop the riverfront on THEIR dime is welcome to get started. Get the Corps to declare that we no longer need the levee and give private developers permission to move that dirt as needed for their project.

If the county was serious about developing the riverfront they would have done it right the first time, with that first boat load of our money, and they would have maintained the what little they built. We were told the Riverwalk would be our salvation. Ain't happened. We were told the TEE would be our salvation. That ain't happened yet either. I'm going to need my salvation earlier than I thought because they are taxing me to death trying to get there. There are a lot of great thing that could be done.....but I am not capable of funding them. I'm tapped out. I cannot stand any more sales tax, garbage fees, property tax, or school tax. If there is money to be made by developing the river then please let the people who will make the money have at it because I have the feeling all I will get out of it is the BILL.

Besides, I think Fred has already obligated a bunch of spending on the NEXT SPLOSTS that has not even been approved yet. Somebody has got to get the spending under control and it is obvious that we do not have the right people in office to do it. And what's even worse, I don't see anybody waiting in the wings that is capable of doing it either. All I see is more of the same.....mostly the same old faces with the same old tired ideas and the same touch of larceny in their hearts. They all know how to SPEND our money but not one of them knows how to SAVE us money or LIVE WITHIN OUR MEANS.

Oh yeh, meant to ask this the other day. Marion doesn't own a church or something near where he wants to put the "Veranda" does he? He made out pretty well on the last one he sold us.

Conservative Man
4578
Points
Conservative Man 06/16/13 - 12:14 pm
3
2

As usual...

.....Dichotomy has proven to be one of the most articulate of "posters" here.

countyman
16776
Points
countyman 06/16/13 - 01:45 pm
2
3

urban core

The urban core and old city limits don't have to be the same. The year is 2013, and the 2010 population is almost three years ago.. Richmond gained over 2.000 people between 2010-2012, and were closing in on 2014. The population of city limits don't mean too much nowadays anyway.. Cities annex land and some are consolidated with the county. Augusta gets over 1.5 millon visitors per year. and the old city population from the 90's being around 20k larger than Orangeburg is irrelevant. The JB White building, Enterprise Mill, etc are some of the larger residential properties. Tons of the older buildings downtown have been renovated into new residential space. Comparing Orangeburg to Augusta is like comapring Jacksonville to Atlanta just because the city limit population is higer compared to Atlanta..

Riverman1
70312
Points
Riverman1 06/16/13 - 03:11 pm
3
1

How could I have been so forgetful

How could I have been so forgetful and not think of that huge population influx going into those apartments in the JB White building?

Seriously, I do think a few more residents have moved into the old city area, but not that many. We know the population from 2000 to 2010 was stagnant, yet there were some housing developments in South Augusta. We also know the county population has increased by about two thousand since the 2010 census. Considering Gilbert Manor, the public housing project, was torn down there simply hasn't been that much of a population increase in the old city. Some stores with apartments above them don't greatly affect the population.

But let's say for the sake of the discussion that 5-10 thousand more people now live in the old city limits, even though we both know that's not true. That still leaves us with a tiny true urban population which is what the Chronicle editorial is pointing out.

t3bledsoe
13168
Points
t3bledsoe 06/16/13 - 03:11 pm
0
4

Augusta's leaders need to look into a TIF

Augusta should follow the plan "called Project Jackson" in North Augusta. For those of you that don't know about how this TIF works, the city leaders will partner with private businesses and try to get public financing through the county and school board's taxes. Therefore, the TIF puts up private money and public monies from the county and the school board in order to make up the pot of money which a revitilization project will cost.

t3bledsoe
13168
Points
t3bledsoe 06/16/13 - 03:31 pm
4
0

Very well stated ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts

"Safety isn't just from criminals, but also about maintaining what you have and keeping it in a manner that would preclude someone from injuries. With bricks and mortar falling apart, lighting not being relamped or repaired and overgrown landscaping all affecting safety why do we have to wonder?"

One of the biggest mistakes that public services doesn't do is to factor into the bottom line ""THE COST OF MAINTENANCE"" !!

Little Lamb
40055
Points
Little Lamb 06/16/13 - 08:06 pm
3
0

Correct

You are absolutely correct, t3bledsoe. Augusta does not maintain its properties well (nor does Richmond Co. BOE). But it's really more than merely budgeting money. You have to have a staff of employees and managers who actually care about caring for the city's facilities. Fred (What, me worry?) Russell does not care; and his lackadaisical attitude filters down to his subordinates.

A new, gung-ho city manager would go a long way to revitalizing this city.

Michael Ryan
527
Points
Michael Ryan 06/16/13 - 08:12 pm
3
1

Dichotomy -- I agree you're

Dichotomy -- I agree you're one of our best posters! Let me set your mind at ease; no conspiracy here. I actually decided to write this editorial after driving by the riverfront one morning and thinking about what a disgrace it is to have such little development of it. I'd been looking for a good Sunday piece. That's really all there is to it. The fact that others have come to that conclusion about the blight independently isn't really surprising to me.

Michael Ryan
527
Points
Michael Ryan 06/16/13 - 08:18 pm
3
0

By the way, waited till today

By the way, waited till today to think of a better headline for the editorial: River Mortis.

Little Lamb
40055
Points
Little Lamb 06/16/13 - 08:28 pm
4
0

How About . . .

River Morris

? ? ? :-)

Dixieman
10350
Points
Dixieman 06/16/13 - 09:49 pm
3
1

Yeah, right

Name a city our size in America that has successfully and permanently revitalized downtown. There ain't none. Sad but true. I wish it were otherwise but the facts speak for themselves. We have a doughnut area like all other comparable places -- big hole of despair and danger in the middle, all the sugar has fled to the suburbs leaving the sociopaths behind in the inner core. Quit spending money on useless studies and get over it.

allhans
21921
Points
allhans 06/16/13 - 11:50 pm
2
0

Let's be serious.

Let's be serious. Water/waterfront.....is a huge draw always......... so do something.
Why are we fighting improvements.....It doesn't have to necessarily be paid for by taxpayers...as some said...turn it over to private developers....but DO something!
Suggestions have been made over the years...a ball stadium, dormitories, etc. but nothing happens.
Let's have RC voters decide.

Brad Owens
3635
Points
Brad Owens 06/17/13 - 08:41 am
2
1

Ohhh Mike..

Yes Mike,

I am sure the fact that your publisher owns almost every bit of developed or developable land along the river that would directly benefit from a focus on the riverfront has nothing to do with you all promoting it. I am not saying you are not telling the truth, I just know propaganda when I see it.

Also, what is with all the praise and heaping adornment you lavish on Copenhaver? I guess if you consider some of the highest unemployment numbers in the state, massive debt, a shrinking tax base, shrinking population and the fact no one can name any major issue facing the county he has help solve during his tenure as success; then it's no wonder you all back the candidates you do at election time.

I notice also that the ridiculous "walk through" of the mayor and a couple of commissioners did along the Riverwalk was front page color picture news too. Nope, no propaganda there. Deke can't even release a statement after the violent attacks downtown on the Riverwalk but he can be there in the front walking along or the photo-op. Disgusting.

Yeah, you all are just purveyors of fact on here when it comes to the riverfront. No bias. No vested interest. Just doing your civic duty as the press in Augusta.

Brad

Riverman1
70312
Points
Riverman1 06/17/13 - 10:29 am
4
2

Brad, you are being unfair to

Brad, you are being unfair to the Mayor. It could be he was at the beach with his phone turned off and the press couldn't reach him after the Riverwalk attack.

countyman
16776
Points
countyman 06/17/13 - 12:17 pm
1
1

Brad. The census says the

Brad. The census says the population is growing. Where do you get your information from?

countyman
16776
Points
countyman 06/17/13 - 12:19 pm
1
1

Dixieman... Savannah,

Dixieman... Savannah, Charleston, Greenville, Omaha, etc

badmoon426
789
Points
badmoon426 06/17/13 - 03:59 pm
2
0

2010 Census for Augusta Richmond County...

...the total population on ARC according to the US Census 2010 is 195,844 and the estimated population (2012)for ARC according to the US Census is 197, 872 a growth rate of 1.0%.

The median income in ARC (2010 US Census) is $38,877 which is almost $10,000 less then the state median income.

Persons below the poverty level 24.0% or 47,489 people.

This to me doesn't paint a wonderful picture and adding a Starbucks Plant isn't going to change the poverty level or median income statistics.

badmoon426
789
Points
badmoon426 06/17/13 - 04:16 pm
2
0

Starbucks...

...will save the world.

Opening service related industries and light industry are good but the real question is the wage scale. Augusta is below the state median income level and with 1 in every 4 people living in poverty. Augusta needs jobs that have a future or a distinct career path. This is what most people want jobs with a future...

So this endless litany of 'positive' news from Countyman without the specifics is as empty as a outer space.

badmoon426
789
Points
badmoon426 06/17/13 - 04:18 pm
1
0

To be or not to be...

...that is the question.

The ARC government is crippled by its past, present and future way of doing business and unless it is changed the 'Downtown' will continue to shrivel.

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