After more than 40 years, downtown Augusta is finally seeing a resurgence of activity:
New loft apartments; private businesses moving into the downtown, such as TaxSlayer and Unisys; Sibley Mill redevelopment into a data center and cyber-focused facility; two new hotels; new restaurants and retail stores; redevelopment of the Miller and Imperial Theaters and the Bell Auditorium; tremendous public investment from Gov. Deal in Augusta University and the new Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center.
With the new activity in Augusta’s downtown, North Augusta saw an opportunity to continue that vision into the new Riverside Village at Hammond’s Ferry. A vibrant downtown Augusta is critical to that project’s success. And the $25 million T-SPLOST project to redesign and rebuild Broad Street offers the opportunity, more than ever before, to live and work in downtown Augusta.
In the past, the thinking was that if you built a wonderful facility, development would happen around that “node.” In downtown Augusta, that did not happen. Fort Discovery and the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, both exciting nodes, did not garner the development to sustain them.
Working out from the city center, the Augusta Common, makes more sense. There are now waves of activity flowing from the Augusta Common, and the rest of downtown is seeing that new development to the tune of over $1 billion currently being spent downtown on development. It should be noted that Augusta’s downtown is bigger than most, so development was harder to see. But we are seeing it now.
The addition of a new James Brown Arena would continue downtown’s development. The surge in acts and attendance at the arena shows that patrons are delighted to come downtown to see a show and then frequent other establishments. There is synergy between the arena and downtown businesses. They work together to make downtown more vibrant.
Moving the arena to the Regency Mall site as a stand-alone facility does not make sense. This is “node” mentality again. Build it and they will come. This thinking did not work in Augusta during the last 40 years, and it is dubious if it will work now.
Rather than spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a project that is probably doomed from the start at that location, it would be better to dust off previous master plans for that area, update them and go forward with a coordinated development that is grounded in hard numbers and a new vision, and has a greater opportunity of succeeding.
Leave the James Brown Arena downtown. It is finally starting to work as an economic driver, something that downtown businesses and our Augusta taxpayers are happy to see.
Randall W. Hatcher
The writer is president of MAU Workforce Solutions.