As the local architectural associate with I.M. Pei for the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum and the Chamber of Commerce building, I wish to respond to an April 15 article (“A genius some of the time”) by Bill Kirby, columnist for The Augusta Chronicle.
The article implies that I.M. Pei’s streetscape project was, in large measure, responsible for many of the problems with downtown Augusta for the past 40 years. To quote Mr. Kirby, “People have been grumbling about what he did to downtown for almost 40 years now and trying to change it for almost as long.”
It is my opinion, and that of many other professionals, that the main reason for the failure in the revitalization of downtown was not the streetscape project; rather, it was the site selection for the Coliseum and Civic Center made by the Coliseum Authority.
Pei was originally commissioned to make a site recommendation to the authority. However, before a recommendation could be made, politics took over. Instead of listing in order his preference of six proposed sites — three in the county and three downtown — Pei was directed to provide the Coliseum Authority a site selection study listing the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed sites.
Working directly with Pei and his design team, I knew they loved the riverfront, and there was no doubt in my mind that one of the two riverfront sites proposed would have been recommended to the authority.
Had this been done, it would have been difficult for the authority to vote against his recommendation. More importantly, Pei’s recommendation would have further stimulated growth downtown, and especially along the riverfront.
In 1968, Muldower &Patterson, Architects &Urban Developers did a Comprehensive Plan for the Expansion and Revitalization of Downtown Augusta. This plan was approved in principle and accepted by the Commercial Area Study Committee in 1968. That study highlighted the construction of a mall extending from the Municipal Building on Greene Street to a riverfront Coliseum and Civic Center next to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
Every study made of Augusta that I am aware of has shown that the future of Augusta lies in the development of our riverfront for cultural, recreational and residential uses.
Perhaps in the future, those who have been “grumbling” for the past 40 years will direct their energy in a more positive manner, by insisting that all future plans for the expansion and revitalization of Augusta be left in the hands of professionals, and not politicians.
Frank L. Holroyd Jr.