A great idea, ill-conceived

Public support never materialized for campus mills proposal

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If you’re advocating a building project that requires a sizable public buy-in, what do you build first?

Support.

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.

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seenitB4
93264
Points
seenitB4 08/16/14 - 04:50 am
6
1
the vision simply wasn’t sold to the community

And they have been nickeled & dimed to death...ask dichotomy.

Riverman1
89985
Points
Riverman1 08/16/14 - 06:11 am
4
2
Peter Pan Syndrome

When I first heard of the mills project I, too, thought it was such a transforming project for the city, bringing thousands of students to live in the area, that it was something we should support.

Where it went wrong is with Deke and his pal, Matt K, deciding they would be the ones to push the project the way they wanted, without oversight, yet spending millions of COUNTY money. Keep in mind one of their projects with the ARC organization they created, that pays Matt K a secret amount somewhere in six figures, is also the Jazz Café in the old Chamber of Commerce building in the middle of Broad St.

The Commission should have been in control of the mills project from the start, including hiring the person to handle it. In this time of belt tightening in Richmond County, a new six figure director of something that doesn’t answer to the county and demands millions more is as fantasy like as Deke and Matt dressed like Tinker Bell flying around the elevated Jazz Cafe encouraging people inside to incubate.

Bodhisattva
6781
Points
Bodhisattva 08/16/14 - 05:55 am
6
1
Why are local taxpayers

Why are local taxpayers expected to pay for expansion of a state university in the first place? They've been on a building spree for years, now locals are supposed to pay for it?

dsterling9
1165
Points
dsterling9 08/16/14 - 07:10 am
1
0
WRONG AVENUE

I had often wondered by something was never done with those old buildings along River Watch and have seen several articles over the years; however, the 'legacy driven' plans of Deke and others was wrong from the beginning. Just like the funds for Paine this was a bad idea from the beginning and, along with other items, caused SPLOST to fail. Put the properties up for sale (again) and see what happens. One thing to worry about is how putting more 'stuff' down there how River Watch will change. Already changes have made access VERY dangerous.

deestafford
30154
Points
deestafford 08/16/14 - 07:11 am
3
0
Sometimes it's so easy..

Sometimes it's so easy to get used to using other people's money that one forgets they sometimes need to get the people to ride along with them in the wagon before asking for their money.

deestafford
30154
Points
deestafford 08/16/14 - 07:18 am
3
0
I've got a question about "studies"....

I've got a question about "studies". When I was taking graduate management courses at the University of Alabama (ROLL TIDE!) we oftentimes did studies for institutions and businesses on different ideas and projects they were studying as projects for our courses. Why can't our local students be used for the same things.

We have a business school over at Augusta University (or what ever it's now called). Why could they not do a study on the feasibility of the mill.

It's just like when the city needs a logo or something, what does it do? It goes out and pays thousands of dollars to a firm to develop one when it could have ran a local contest with some sort of prize for the winning entry as voted upon by the citizens.

I say before we use any city/county money for a project the powers that be (PTB) look at our academic institutions and local citizens to see if they can do it as a project for credit or a prize.

I think there is an overused phrase that hits this nail on the head--"Thinking outside the box".

Little Lamb
47847
Points
Little Lamb 08/16/14 - 07:54 am
4
0
Free Market

ACES calls the mill section of the canal “pregnant with economic opportunity.” Maybe so, but it should be the free market that decides what and when. This, after all, is the United States of America, not the Soviet Union. We should not install a command and control economic model here in Augusta.

Point one (echoed above by Bodhisattva) is Grooo's role. Grooo is a large state university. If they desire the property for their enterprise, then they will work through the Board of Regents and through their alumni association to procure the funding. City government might assist with modest infrastructure needs, but even then, Grooo should pay for infrastructure that serves only their expansion.

Point two is this insane idea of putting college dorms in those massive, energy inefficient nineteenth-century buildings. Look out the window, folks. Today’s college students aren’t interested in dorms. They want to rent an apartment. They want to rent a house. If they are med students, they might even want to buy a house.

Point three is sprawl. Grooo needs to consolidate its campuses, not spread out more. Instead of buying property at the canal, a more logical approach would be to buy property along the Walton Way corridor between the Frog Hollow campus and the Arsenal campus.

Brad Owens
4858
Points
Brad Owens 08/16/14 - 10:27 am
1
2
Veritas..

I love the absolute misinformation and ill-informed opinions about this project that are out there.

dichotomy
35994
Points
dichotomy 08/16/14 - 10:28 am
4
0
"And they have been nickeled

"And they have been nickeled & dimed to death...ask dichotomy."

They raised our property taxes because they were going to do that anyway....I see no reason to EVER give them another SPLOST. They have proven themselves too incompetent to handle OUR money. Most, if not all, of their high dollar SPLOST projects are total failures. The Riverwalk, the TEE, the parking deck.....all dismal wastes of the taxpayers' money that have not performed anywhere near expectations sold to us by the "visionaries". They all failed and South Augusta rots. In fact, I am sick to death of "visionaries" wanting to spend my money. What Augusta needs is a mayor, 10 commissioners, and an administrator....all wearing green brimmed eyeshades from an accounting background. NO VISIONARIES ALLOWED.

The lying politicians all claim to be concerned about making the county prosperous. What NONE of them realize is that the FIRST thing that has to happen is the county has to be able to pay it's bills AND LEAVE THE RESIDENTS enough of their own money to BE PROSPEROUS. You cannot create prosperity by blowing money on failed projects while choking the taxpayers and leaving large portions of the county to rot. You cannot buy prosperity. You have to let it grow itself. The President cannot do it and the Mayor and Augusta Commission cannot do it either.

IS THERE ANYBODY IN SOUTH RICHMOND COUNTY THAT THINKS THEY ARE BETTER OFF TODAY THAN BEFORE CONSOLIDATION????

Conservative Man
5577
Points
Conservative Man 08/16/14 - 10:48 am
7
1
While most here….

…agree that the mills could be utilized for something besides laying dormant,I've always questioned the feasibility of dorms, or some sort of residential facility…

Has anyone thought about the cost of issues such as asbestos abatement?..how about chemical contamination etc?..

I worked in a mill for a few months as a young man and the amount of caustic chemicals and other carcinogens that are used in these mills is staggering…bear in mind this mill was operating LONG before there was the EPA or OSHA…

5.25 million would be but a grain of sand on the beach to what it would most likely take to get this places even remotely inhabitable. Who would THEN be on the hook for THAT money..

I've said it before..if it"s such a great space, put it up for sale and see what private investment can do first before we throw taxpayers funds (of which there is less and less in RC), at the problem…

As to Deke and K, it is obvious they have miscalculated.They misjudged public sentiment on the project as a whole. But I think the main miscalculation was bringing in an outsider (K) to try to tell locals AND Groo what they "ought" to be doing…that might sound petty to some, but grand projects like these are better "sold" by people with a track record in the community and proven ability…

K has a great resume on paper but so far he's done nada for the community except make proposals, get a little camera time in the media and make a fat paycheck…speaking of camera time, anyone remember the tv interview where K famously snapped at Eskola to "back off"? Hardly the kind of salesman you want for projects of this nature….

Look for K to go away now that here is no slush fund via SPLOST and Deke to find other wagons to hitch his star to, and the mills to have private investors step up and do what government so often does poorly...

badmoon426
1187
Points
badmoon426 08/16/14 - 11:57 am
1
2
What Are The Ill Informed Opinions...

...and absolute misinformation?

To the follower of this story SPLOST VII was such a rushed and an ill conceived document, it should have never been allowed to be voted on by the citizens.

Approximately 5 million dollars was earmarked for the Deke and Matt pony show called 'The Mills Project' even before collections would have started for SPLOST VII. For a project that was not even planned and/or approved by the Board of Regents or GRU, this is very strange indeed. SO it begs the question, what would have happened if the local taxpayer money had been sunk into this project and it never happened on the state level?

As has been pointed out by others there was no buy in by the voter but most of all the state. Why did this project gain any traction, if the primary 'client' the state of Georgia wasn't remotely interested?

As for the Augusta Regional Collaboration Project as well as it employees are locally funded by the taxpayer so it is required to be accountable, responsible and transparent to the taxpayers. Therefor as a start I suggest an open records request of Matt Kwatinetz (his compensation) as well as the funding and budget of the ARC Project.

The link for Georgia Open Records Request is as follows:

http://law.ga.gov/how-make-open-records-request

raul
5494
Points
raul 08/16/14 - 12:11 pm
3
0
@deestafford 818 post. I have

@deestafford 818 post. I have wondered the same thing. What a great MBA project to undertake and possibly useful also.

raul
5494
Points
raul 08/16/14 - 12:12 pm
4
0
@BradOwens. Well, Brad, set

@BradOwens. Well, Brad, set us straight then.

countyman
21221
Points
countyman 08/16/14 - 01:15 pm
2
4
Facts

Some people seem to believe that Augusta can magically attract private investment without the city investing.. The taxpayers of Augusta don't pay the salary of Matt K... The ARC is one of the best things hands down happening in Augusta... The private sector and Starbucks donated $300,000 to the collaboration.. The negative attitude towards the ARC is very troubling. The old chamber of commerce building has been empty for years.. A local private developer or investment group from the CSRA could have renovated the old chamber of commerce... Many of those people gave up on the urban core and fled to the suburbs. The building is not a Jazz Cafe either and will provide the opportunity for change in the city..

The splost package will always include more than 'locals', because Richmond County is a MAJOR shopping destination in the GA/SC area... The government should always be looking at ways to generate revenue from outside the county to improve the quality of life.. The Sibley Mill has been on the market for years in Harrisburg.. The city will have to provide a couple of major anchors if you want a private developer to purchase the building..

How is the Riverwalk a failure? Please inform me of the multiple areas in the CSRA that attract more visitors? How is the TEE Center a failure? When is the last time a new hotel opened in the CBD before the TEE Center opened? The Holiday Inn Express($8.5 million investment) opened in March of 2014...

The private market had years to acquire Sibley Mill before the idea of building dorms begin floating around.. Where are the grand projects from people with 'proven track records' at? The chamber of commerce building and mills have been empty for years.. The $172 million Starbucks plant wouldn't be in South Augusta without Matt K... Volunteers from the Starbucks plant helped renovate the former chamber of commerce building downtown.. The Augusta Renewable Energy($20 million), Eco Energy($10 million), and Palmetto Propane facilities were announced in South Augusta after the Starbucks plant.. Mr. K or the ARC won't be going anywhere, because of the Artspace/GGHF site/former chamber of commerce...

Little Lamb
47847
Points
Little Lamb 08/16/14 - 01:27 pm
3
0
Government Slumlords

Countyman posted:

The chamber of commerce building and mills have been empty for years.

That is because these buildings are owned by governmental agencies. They just sit on the properties instead of auctioning them off.

countyman
21221
Points
countyman 08/16/14 - 01:43 pm
2
2
Facts

The Augusta Canal Authority didn't purchase the Sibley Mill until 2010... The renovation of the Sibley Mill is very expensive and you must have a major developer.. The Sibley Mill is attractive to the private market, but the Kroc Center is really the only major anchor.. The Medical District and the CBD are near Harrisburg, but not inside the neighborhood. And the Chamber of Commerce building was for sale..

The city of Augusta will mainly have to rely on the younger generation and newcomers to promote major change. The apathy towards everything in Richmond County from some of the citizens who have lived here for years is too much..

There's a mentality of ganging up on the 'Matt K', because he's from outside the CSRA... How many locals from the CSRA are trying to help Harrisburg or even Richmond County? Many of the locals citizens in the CSRA are telling newcomers to avoid Harrisburg or focus on CC/AC... The newcomers could have helped revitalize the neighborhood(residential or commercial)..

badmoon426
1187
Points
badmoon426 08/16/14 - 01:50 pm
3
1
Thank You Countyman...

...we need you to spout off a senseless rant filled with factoids that have no real impact on the topic at hand.

Riverman1
89985
Points
Riverman1 08/16/14 - 02:06 pm
2
1
Jazz Cafe

"The building is not a Jazz Cafe either..."

We didn't make up the name. That's what THEY called it.

countyman
21221
Points
countyman 08/16/14 - 02:15 pm
1
2
Naysayers

The truth hurts and the double standards against Richmond County need to be made public....

Bash the Tee Center? The CC government built the Gateway and Project Jackson in North Augusta wants to include a conference center.

Bash the Mixed-use development? The Greenjackets are moving to North Augusta and nobody has nothing to say..

The sky is always falling in Augusta every single day according to the same few people.. This crowd seems to believe that american cities become prosperous mainly based on the success of the counties surrounding them.. The logic behind that type of reasoning is destructive and doesn't help the city move forward.. The decade of 2000-2010 clearly showed the effects of promoting this environment... It's 2014 and people are still complaining about the lack of activities, high paying jobs, etc... Certain types of activities, jobs, industry, recreation, entertainment, etc can't just build anywhere in the CSRA.. The idea of promoting the suburban counties and criticizing everything in Richmond County is only hurting the CSRA, because the CSRA mainly depends on Richmond County...

The $300,000 was spent on developing the Mills proposal... I wouldn't accuse somebody of misinformation or spouting off senseless rants.. If I just commented the employees of the ARC are being paid from local taxpayers... The quote taken from the AC said nothing about the $300,000 going towards anyone's salary..

Lori Davis
968
Points
Lori Davis 08/16/14 - 02:16 pm
2
0
My two cents worth

Someone advised Matthew Kwatinetz to come into Harrisburg and and put together a group of folks to begin to work on a Community Benefits Agreement that would let the developers/ interested parties know what the neighborhood wanted in exchange if these mills were renovated. Of course it was important to have the neighborhood on board with this project since it would directly affect Harrisburg, and having Harrisburg's blessing certainly would go a long way concerning grants and investment. The only problem was that some of us uniquely associated with Harrisburg were not invited to participate until the group in place was well snowed. I felt sorry for this group as they toiled feverishly to put together an agreement in record time as suggested by Mr.Kwatinetz; Needed to be accomplished in one month. My biggest issue with this was that an agreement suggests that there are two parties involved, yet no one knew who the agreement was being made with, and there was nothing legal put in place to even assure that this,"agreement,"would be honored. FAST FORWARD……No MILLS PROJECT……NO Completed AGREEMENT…..another group of Harrisburg stakeholders learned what it was like to meet and jump through the proverbial hoop. I don't do this anymore because I have learned to recognize the good from the bad from the ugly. I will support a plan for Harrisburg to be considered in the next SPLOST and will work to that end. Harrisburg has many infrastructure issues that need to be addressed and I support SPLOST projects that deal with infrastructure. After all, this is what SPLOST is really supposed to be about. No one wants to see Harrisburg change more than me, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do business when it involves everyone's tax dollars. I prefer the right way. When I was not invited to the initial meetings, this sent up a red flag for me as well as a lot of other people. Looks like we were right in our assumptions from the very start. Ill conceived idea is correct.

Little Lamb
47847
Points
Little Lamb 08/16/14 - 03:03 pm
2
0
Thank you

for relating that information, Lori. That "agreement" Matt Kwatinetz tried to ramrod sounds like he doesn't have good organizing skills nor good rapport with normal folk.

The thing that is scary is that the mills "project" was all about spending 5+ million dollars of Augusta tax money to buy parcels that belong to well-heeled real estate speculators and then to give the parcels to Grooo. It reminds me of the $10 million that Augusta spent to purchase Gilbert Manor from the housing authority, and then gave the land to Grooo.

Folks, Grooo has the ability to self-fund. It is wrong for city government to raid the treasury for Grooo expansion!

GnipGnop
12691
Points
GnipGnop 08/16/14 - 03:26 pm
2
0
I feel sorry for

The taxpayers of ARC. Thankfully I am no longer among them.

Brad Owens
4858
Points
Brad Owens 08/16/14 - 04:12 pm
1
3
badmoon..

I suggest folks just keep on taking what they see in the media at face value. No need to look beyond what you are spoon fed here.

Otherwise, do what I did which was get involved and grab an oar.

I have gotten to know Matt really well over the past year. He is absolutly not what is being portrayed here and it is obvious that folks saying the negative things are not informed.

I would suggest that you visit the ARC website, send him an email and ask your questions. Matt's salary is not paid by RC and the building the money is being spent on, 600m Broad, is owned by the city.

Anyone who thinks that we are better off with the mills sitting empty verses trying to do something isn't interested in saving our city from it's current slow and steady decline.

Here is a link to the website.. contact them directly and ask for the information you want;

http://www.augustacollaboration.org/

Brad Owens
4858
Points
Brad Owens 08/16/14 - 04:17 pm
0
1
And I will just add this..

If we can get those mills redeveloped it will be a great thing for our city. The five million was not for renovations on the actual mills, it was to acquire properties between the mills and GRU proper a far as I have been told. A development of this size that connects the mills and the main campus would really help Harrisburg bring in gentrification and redevelopment.

dichotomy
35994
Points
dichotomy 08/16/14 - 05:31 pm
1
0
When they get ready to

When they get ready to RE-gentrify South Augusta somebody send up a flare. Until then, I'll continue to complain about every tax dollar spent DOWNTOWN or the other side of town. THEY ruined it, THEY need to start giving South Augusta their share and making it viable again...like it was before they starved it and dumped their Section 8 into it.

countyman
21221
Points
countyman 08/16/14 - 06:41 pm
0
2
Dichotomy...The government

Dichotomy...

The government should be working on revitalizing the Regency Mall, creating new sidewalks/bike lanes/greenspace on Peach Orchard near the commercial growth, and constructing the water park(next splost package) somewhere off I-520 between Peach Orchard/Doug Barnard...

Little Lamb
47847
Points
Little Lamb 08/16/14 - 07:45 pm
0
0
Sidewalks on Peach Orchard?

Who would want to walk there? It's a hustle-bustle, nerve-wracking kind of atmosphere. It is automotive all the way. Peach Orchard Road is an urban sprawl highway meant to move in and move out as many cars and trucks as possible on each business day. Sidewalks don't fit in there.

Gage Creed
18709
Points
Gage Creed 08/16/14 - 08:59 pm
0
0
Really?

"The sky is always falling in Augusta every single day according to the same few people.." REALLY??

And according to others everything will be wonderful if taxpayers just fund a few more public projects...

When what they really mean is, make things so some Pollyana can skim funds or profit from insider knowledge.

Gage Creed
18709
Points
Gage Creed 08/16/14 - 09:04 pm
1
0
Only in your mind..

"The idea of promoting the suburban counties and criticizing everything in Richmond County is only hurting the CSRA, because the CSRA mainly depends on Richmond County..."

SMH...

Quick norton... tell 'em about the HEI and the Sprint Metro Market....

OH OH... and what of Wet Willies? (eyeroll)

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