With new university, Augusta faces a unique opportunity

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A solid university is among the strongest economic engines to drive and improve the fortunes of the community that surrounds it. The jobs associated with universities pay well and are stable. The students and faculty are consumers in and benefactors to the community, and their vitality can push up the quality of life for everyone.

This artist's rendering depicts a plan that city officials proposed for redeveloping two historic textile mills into educational or housing space for the expansion of Georgia Regents University.  FILE
FILE
This artist's rendering depicts a plan that city officials proposed for redeveloping two historic textile mills into educational or housing space for the expansion of Georgia Regents University.

Augusta has the next great university in the South.

The combined university in Augusta is in a very rare situation. Most universities are established as colleges that grow and mature, then expand into graduate programs to meet the needs of their constituencies. Here, the combined university has a mature medical/dental/nursing school with its teaching and research funding that was not previously tied to an undergraduate college – it was a locomotive in need of a train.

WITH CONSOLIDATION, that medical education complex is tied to the undergraduate college and business school, and the undergraduate programs will grow and expand with a larger student body, more and better course offerings, on-campus housing and the attendant facilities to meet a real and growing educational need in Georgia.

The way government funds its institutions is such that we cannot expect an overall five-year plan or 10-year plan from the University System of Georgia Board of Regents for the consolidation and growth of the university that will fund out before the community changes. Notwithstanding, the consolidation will continue, and it would be unrealistic to expect the university to retain its current spread of campuses (i.e., 15th Street, Summerville and Wrightsboro Road). The university is headed for a single unified campus, and the medical complex investment is such that the campus will be around the 15th Street facilities.

The question for the people who care about Augusta is whether we stand on the sidelines and watch over the next 30 years as the land is acquired piecemeal here and there around the existing buildings, for new facilities to be slotted in as funding allows, or whether we put together and implement a comprehensive plan to establish the campus in Augusta that a great university deserves.

AUGUSTA HAS A unique opportunity that will not be here in 10 years or even five. A campus stretching from the current dental school and up 15th Street all the way to the Savannah River – expanding in one direction to the upper end of downtown and in the other direction up to, across and along the Augusta Canal at the Kroc Center and all the way to the edge of the Canal Authority’s 2,200-acre property – can be acquired and established.

The Mills property is available, and the land along Broad Street and Reynolds Street from the Augusta Canal down to 15th Street, then west along 15th Street and the entire area known as Harrisburg, will benefit. The beauty and distinctive character of Augusta’s renovated mill buildings has been demonstrated at Enterprise Mill and Sutherland Mill, and the King Mill can be similarly renovated to form the hardscape pillars of the most important expansion of higher education Georgia will see in our lifetime.

But such a broad establishment of an institutional footprint in preparation for the future is not the way Georgia’s college and university facilities have been funded, and the Board of Regents simply cannot focus so much of their funding into the foundation of the university to bring such a long-term vision to fruition. Combining the efforts and leadership of private citizens, government acquisition authority and private and local public funding, the campus can be acquired and planned, and the core buildings can be put in place – in spite of the limitations of state funding and process.

THE BENEFITS to Augusta are easy to see. Jobs, investment, new consumers, enhanced recreational facilities, enhanced arts and all the tangible and intangible benefits of a large residential university are at hand. Placing a young population next to the canal will expand its use. The north end of downtown will improve. Harrisburg will continue to improve.

The question is whether the consolidated university is where the community should focus its local public and private funding, or whether there is a good argument against putting together the campus.

(The writer is a member manager of the Augusta retail development company Hull Storey Gibson.)

Comments (18) Add comment
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moderate321
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moderate321 08/25/13 - 01:56 am
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Great ideas...

The problem is that Azziz doesn't want it. He wants another 50 million dollar cancer center building and pursuing the Mills project would divert attention from that project. We simply cannot do it all at once and the new university has few apparent priorities. I hope that we can get the Mills Campus. As the author indicates, this is a pivotal moment in Augusta's history, however without leadership from the top (which includes Hank Huckaby, Governor Deal, and Dr. Azziz) the probability of this coming to fruition is slim.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/25/13 - 06:14 am
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Lack of Students

The biggest problem I see is the lack students to live in new dorms and apartments. ASU and MCG combined don't have that many students who will want student housing. Build it and they will come is a luxury we can't afford. Augusta tried that with the TEE Center.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/25/13 - 07:29 am
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Another Possibility

MCG is trying to build other large facilities in Columbia County. Why shouldn't ASU begin a move out that way? Sell their property and move into more appropriate surroundings for a college. With time the med school could also head that way.

soapy_725
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soapy_725 08/25/13 - 08:48 am
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Mo guvmit construction/buildings. Mo guvmit land. Mo taxes.
Unpublished

Mo guvmit construction/buildings. Mo guvmit land. Mo taxes.

countyman
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countyman 08/25/13 - 09:36 am
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The governor, Dr. Azizz, and

The governor, Dr. Azizz, and the Board of Regents all support the Mills Campus. Both the Cultural and Mills campuses are needed. The funding of the new cancer was already approved, and should begin later this year. The Tee Center continues to attract private investment, and the Mills campus will do the same. A private company will build a solar farm, and sell energy to Georgia Power. The company will pay the city rent, and improve the local tax base.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/25/13 - 12:55 pm
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The most hotels built in one

The most hotels built in one area are out at Wash. Rd-I-20. They were built before the TEE. So they had nothing to do with the TEE. How do you equate any construction in the old city to the TEE? The truth is the occupancy rate for the TEE is abysmal with few actual outside events attracting substantial numbers, yet the advertising and maintenance fees are running.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/25/13 - 12:53 pm
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GRU to Columbia County

Some large universities have made complete moves to other campuses with more space after starting in crowded urban areas. Furman and The Citadel come to mind.

countyman
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countyman 08/25/13 - 05:18 pm
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How can the occupancy rate at

How can the occupancy rate at the TEE be abysmal when the $8 million Holiday Inn Express is under construction? The proposed Hyatt Place should break ground by the end of 2013 also.

Where are the new hotels near the exhibition hall in Grovetown?

dpatt.marine1
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dpatt.marine1 08/25/13 - 06:00 pm
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I think GRU should build out

I think GRU should build out the Forest Hill campus, I think the city should widen Damascus Road and construct a multipurpose stadium along with a baseball/softball facility on the property. I support the creation of more campuses but to maximize the effectiveness of the school it may be smarter at the time being to limit its expansion to its current campus, i.e the Forest Hill, Summerville and Health Sciences campuses. There is plenty of room to build an extensive student housing complex off Damascus Road, and image how much more can built with the property the Patch occupies. The area around there is pretty low in terms of crime, and it is positioned not too far away from the mall and all the shopping areas and a quick bus ride from downtown.

corgimom
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corgimom 08/25/13 - 06:17 pm
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"Notwithstanding, the

"Notwithstanding, the consolidation will continue, and it would be unrealistic to expect the university to retain its current spread of campuses (i.e., 15th Street, Summerville and Wrightsboro Road). The university is headed for a single unified campus, and the medical complex investment is such that the campus will be around the 15th Street facilities."

You read it with your own eyes, folks, the Summerville campus is slated for closure.

corgimom
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corgimom 08/25/13 - 06:23 pm
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"How can the occupancy rate

"How can the occupancy rate at the TEE be abysmal when the $8 million Holiday Inn Express is under construction"

Because one has nothing to do with the other.

When the TEE Center is booking events that only have a relatively few people attending, including many area events where people aren't likely to spend the night, then yes, attendance is abysmal.

It takes a LOT of business to pay a $22,000 per month Georgia Power bill.

corgimom
38314
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corgimom 08/25/13 - 06:24 pm
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And I would like to point out

And I would like to point out that it's nearly September, and there are a grand total of 7- SEVEN- events booked for 2014.

KSL
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KSL 08/25/13 - 08:13 pm
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Combining a medical

Combining a medical university of a state and a community college that has grown from being a day school for students wanting to have a college degree to university status.

Did y'all see the last statistics on the

KSL
143478
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KSL 08/25/13 - 08:19 pm
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Combining a medical

Combining a medical university of a state and a community college that has grown from being a day school for students wanting to have a college degree to university status.

Did y'all see the last statistics on the number of college students needing remedial courses? Our tax money is being totally wasted.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/25/13 - 08:24 pm
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Balderdash

Countyman posted:

The governor, Dr. Azizz, and the Board of Regents all support the Mills Campus.

This assertion has absolutely no foundation in fact. Let Countyman post actual information that these persons and entities actually support the Mills Campus dream. In fact, they are leery of such a white elephant. It is only city bureaucracy who is pushing the Mills Campus idea. Dr. Azziz is having enough problems figuring out what to do with the GGHoF property he inherited (against his will, I might add).

Ben There
56
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Ben There 08/25/13 - 08:54 pm
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If....

If the main purpose for the consolidation of MCG and ASU was to reduce operating expense, as it was sold to the legislature, it is failing beyond comprehension.

countyman
21626
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countyman 08/25/13 - 10:10 pm
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The developer of the Holiday

The developer of the Holiday Inn Express said one of the main reasons behind the hotel is the Tee Center.

The regents hired a consultant specifically for the Mills campus.

corgimom
38314
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corgimom 08/29/13 - 08:19 pm
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Yeah, Augusta has had

Yeah, Augusta has had consultants up to their ears over the last 40 years. Too bad the consultants never can figure out how to get the money to pay for their bright ideas.

And, I would like to point out, that there was a consultant- an expert- who was willing to testify to the Commission that convention centers never make money and never live up to their economic predictions.

corgimom
38314
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corgimom 08/29/13 - 08:22 pm
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As I have pointed out in the

As I have pointed out in the past, when muncipalities hire consultants, the consultants already know what the muncipalities want to hear. They get recommendations and future business not from telling muncipalities that they are tee-totally nuts with their loser ideas, but by coming up with grandiose projections of how these projects will "benefit" the community.

And these consultants can project and predict anything; there is no accountabilty.

And then they charge outrageous prices for their "work". What a con game.

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