Have you heard the story about the downtown mall?
It’s an old story – almost 40 years old, actually. But it helps illustrate the path downtown Augusta has traveled to take on a welcomed new life.
In 1978 a Canadian developer held a press conference with then-Augusta Mayor Lewis A. “Pop” Newman to announce a proposal to build a two-level shopping mall with 40 to 50 stores and two restaurants, on Broad Street in the vacated Belk department store building.
This was when Regency Mall was just three months away from opening, and Augusta Mall would open a week after that. Those changes in the city’s retail hub represented two economic stakes driven into the heart of downtown.
The downtown mall plan offered a ray of hope, but obviously it never materialized. It was an artificial solution to downtown’s woes when perhaps something a little more natural was needed.
That’s what’s happening now.
A front-page story in Sunday’s Augusta Chronicle laid out the mounting evidence that the city’s core – after years of economic torpor – is reviving with a whirlwind of interest and, more importantly, activity to back it up.
Instead of following an “if you build it, they will come” philosophy, development is being driven by demand. The Augusta area’s burgeoning cyber presence has opened myriad opportunities. Also, more people nationwide want to live, work and play in urban cores, and Augusta’s leaders are successfully rising to meet the need.
“I just think we were ready,” Margaret Woodard told a Chronicle reporter last week. She’s the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. “We had already started on a retail strategy, we had already stared on our housing, we had a good feel for what our office inventory was. We have a great working relationship with downtown brokers and real estate agents. They really bought into downtown. They really saw how great downtown could be and sold the message.
“I think all the stars just aligned,” she said.
Success, it’s been said, occurs when opportunity meets preparation. That describes vividly what’s occurring in downtown Augusta today, and residents should be proud to witness such progress.