Though the year has not been without challenges, our city is at the brink of fulfilling vast potential. Heightened collaboration by organizations throughout our community is taking hold. It will lead to an era of innovation the likes of which we have yet to experience as the physical landscape of Augusta continues to be transformed.
Over the past year our city has been blessed to witness major projects completed through investment by the public, nonprofit and private sectors, as well as through many innovative public/private partnerships.
In the public sector, 2011 has seen the city complete the Augusta Judicial Center and Judge John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse; phase one of the expansion of the Charles B. Webster Detention Center; the new Reynolds Street parking deck; the St. Sebastian Way flyover; impressive improvements to Broad Street, including lighting and traffic signals; and many other projects that have had a major impact on our city’s appearance.
Another major public sector facility was completed with the opening of the $112 million new home for the College of Dentistry at Georgia Health Sciences University, thanks to an innovative partnership involving the city of Augusta, GHSU, the Board of Regents and the Augusta Housing Authority.
THESE PROJECTS represent hundreds of millions of dollars of strategic investment into our economy. Along with their major economic impact, they represent significant improvement to our city’s landscape through their attention to detail and their contributing to a real sense of place. Many of them feature brick as a design element as a nod to Augusta’s rich history in the brick industry.
The past year also saw the completion of the Kroc Center Augusta. Made possible through the largest capital campaign in our city’s history, the $100 million investment by the Salvation Army in this 100,000-square-foot LEED Certified facility in historic Harrisburg represents many years of hard work and a dedication to improving the lives of individuals and families.
The team effort was led by the late Boone Knox, whose role serves as a lasting legacy. He helped bring online a facility that will help build a stronger community while serving as an enduring source of civic pride.
The completion of the Fisher House Augusta serves as another example of our community’s ability to come together to support a project that serves others. The $5 million facility on the grounds of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center represents more than three years of fund-raising and construction, now open to lodge military families from throughout the nation as they visit loved ones who are being treated at the center.
The completion of the Fisher House and the Kroc Center in these uncertain economic times speaks volumes to the character of our city and citizens’ willingness to invest their time, talent and treasure to help others not only at home, but from throughout our nation.
THE PRIVATE SECTOR’S investment has been no less impressive. We’ve seen the completion of our region’s first Costco, bringing 200 jobs; the transformation of the old J.B. White department store along the gateway corridor of Washington Road at National Hills Shopping Center into Electrolux’s state-of-the-art customer care center representing 225 new jobs; and the opening of Rural Sourcing’s new Augusta location in Enterprise Mill as the company creates 100 information technology jobs.
Add Rockwood’s recent announcement that it will invest in a $115 million facility that will bring in 80 to 100 manufacturing jobs upon completion, and we have one more major project to watch as it progresses in 2012.
Public/private partnerships have been key in helping positively impact our city’s physical landscape as we seek to transform neighborhoods. One major example of this is the recent completion of the first phase of the Legacy at Walton Oaks on Sand Bar Ferry Road. This $10 million mixed-income development has been made possible through an ongoing public/private partnership between the Augusta Housing Authority, the city and Walton Communities. Its focus on walking trails and plenty of open space for the healthy enjoyment of residents will set the tone for future developments.
Another significant investment in our city in 2011 is Barry Storey’s landscaping project along Wheeler Road, which was completely privately funded. When first approached with the idea, our city staff agreed immediately to work in partnership to help remove any impediments from keeping a private citizen from stepping up to help make our city shine. The results have had a major impact on one of Augusta’s most prominent gateways.
THE COMMON THREAD that binds all of these projects and initiatives is that they did not become successful within a vacuum, and cannot be attributed to any one individual. Each example represents the commitment of many individuals and organizations working in collaboration to build a stronger community.
It also takes a sense of civic pride and a realization that when one neighborhood, one business, one nonprofit or one citizen succeeds, we all succeed.
For years I have said that I’ve been blessed to witness at the grassroots level a transformation for the better in our community. I’ve watched people throughout the city work together across all perceived boundaries to make great things happen for Augusta, and I’ve seen the results. It is for this reason many great things happened in 2011, and I know even more will happen in 2012.
Happy New Year to each of you, and thank you for all that you do to make Augusta a great city.
(The writer was first elected mayor of Augusta in 2005.)