Editorial: Preserving our future

Renovating older buildings can help Augusta’s economic growth

The Augusta Chronicle in January 1917 published a story about the city’s building boom. Building permits in 1916 had set a record over any previous year.

 

But here’s the thing about new buildings: They become old buildings.

So here we are in 2017, a century later. And these old buildings still have a lot left to offer us – with the right guidance, and the right incentives.

That’s why it’s heartening to hear the success stories from Historic Augusta Inc. about local preservation projects. There are so many important buildings in the area that need to be saved, and can acquire new purpose.

Historic Augusta announced its 2017 award recipients earlier this month for outstanding historic preservation efforts.

The Bill and Marie Bush Friend of Preservation Award was presented to the Creel-Harison Foundation for its dedication and involvement with Historic Augusta and the Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson.

The Watkinson &Co. Grocers Building, 215 12th St., was built about 1900 and was a bicycle shop beforr renovation as a retail space on the first floor a one residential apartment on the second floor.

The William H. Mays III Building, Office of the Public Defender, 902 Greene St., was the former Augusta Richmond County Library was included in Historic Augusta’s Endangered Properties List in 2011 after it became vacant. The city began rehabilitation work in December 2015.

The Benjamin Franklin Jones House, 656 Milledge Road, is in the Summerville Historic District and dates to about 1909. It was on Historic Augusta’s Endangered Properties List for 2016 but the house and gardens have been carefully restored.

The EDTS National Headquarters, 1721 Goodrich St., is in the Augusta Canal National Landmark District. EDTS is an Augusta-based information technology and cybersecurity company. Known as Building 4 on the Sibley Mill site, it’s a 137-year-old former cotton warehouse and the first completed phase of the Augusta Cyberworks campus.

That last example is an important one to note, particularly now that Augusta is abuzz with anything bearing the prefix “cyber.”

The huge U.S. Army Cyber Command will rebase at Fort Gordon by 2020. That, and the civilian support attendant to that rebasing, is expected to bring thousands of people and many new businesses to the Augusta area.

Does that affect our old buildings? Yes, a lot, actually.

Start with EDTS. The developers of that facility – Cape Augusta Digital Properties – chose that site for very good reasons. The old mill’s unusually solid construction can admirably accommodate loads of computer hardware. Also, its proximity to the Augusta Canal and the mill’s old hydroelectric turbines can help keep vast numbers of computer servers cool in what’s expected to be a very large data center.

Also, cyber-related businesses will want to locate downtown to get closer to the new kid on the block – the Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center that will be the centerpiece of Augusta University’s Riverfront Campus. It’s become a popular option for businesses in urban cores to retrofit old or historic buildings for more modern missions.

That’s what Evans-based tax software company TaxSlayer intends to do. The business bought the 94-year-old downtown Family Y building in June, and plans to open it by next spring as TaxSlayer’s Innovation and Technology Campus.

Also, this expected influx of cyber techies means the new workers will need places to live, and they tend to gravitate toward living space that’s close to amenities – specifically, places to spend leisure time.

Old buildings are finding new life to fill that need as well. Developers have spent the past several years refurbishing downtown building s that once were commercial storefronts and transforming them into trendy apartments for residents to enjoy an increasingly walkable city center.

With deserved attention now being turned more toward historic preservation locally, it’s becoming more obvious: Preserving Augusta’s past is becoming a key to charting Augusta’s successful future.

 

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