Parsing the veranda plan

Commissioner's intriguing idea has attendant questions

We’ll never criticize innovation and creativity. Augusta desperately needs more of both.

So we applaud Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams for his out-of-the-box thinking that gave rise last week to a proposed raised pedestrian plaza over sunken parking stalls from Eighth to Ninth streets on Broad.

His “veranda” concept, which he unveiled before the Downtown Development Authority on Thursday, includes greenery, sitting space and more.

Fact is, it could become a natural extension of the very popular Augusta Common, a pastoral community gathering spot connecting Broad Street with Reynolds and, by extension, the riverfront, in the 800 block.

Indeed, the wonderfully popular Arts in the Heart festival has spilled out from the Common onto Broad Street already. It could make terrific use of such a facility as is being proposed.

It’s not part of the 2009 Master Plan that Augusta Tomorrow and others worked long and hard to design, with significant public input. But while that’s regrettable, it’s not a fatal flaw; plans can always change.

As Williams acknowledges, right now it’s just an idea. Its feasibility and popularity have yet to be tested.

But it’s an intriguing concept.

There are, however, other dispositive questions yet to be asked and answered.

The first is a chicken-and-egg one. Borrowing from the film Field of Dreams’ famous phrase: Do we build it and they will come? Or should we wait until there is greater demand, more of a critical mass of pedestrians downtown? As we noted in an editorial Sunday, Augusta’s nearby riverfront is so underused it could be considered blighted.

Another question is more mundane, but just as important: Can the city maintain such a structure when – as a walking tour proved to Augusta commissioners recently – the city is having big problems maintaining the existing Riverwalk?

And, of course, where would the money come from?

These questions need to be answered quickly. The city already has plans for major structural work on Broad Street in the coming years. Now is the time to decide if those plans should be built upon.

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Sat, 01/21/2017 - 22:00

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