Mills campus plan actually benefits city's entire urban core

 

On July 19, The Augusta Chronicle published an article titled “Mills plan viewed as obstacle to project.” While we are grateful for the paper’s coverage of the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem quarterly community meeting, the article provided a rather narrow and somewhat negative picture of what transpired at the meeting. I would like to provide a more comprehensive viewpoint.

 

OUR COMMUNITY meeting June 18 at Beulah Grove Baptist Church was the latest in a series of ongoing community outreach sessions on the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem revitalization that have occurred regularly since 2008. At this meeting, three of Augusta’s 10 commissioners – Bill Fennoy, Bill Lockett and Marion Williams – attended and spoke enthusiastically about the project, and two commissioners reported back to the community on their spring trip to Chicago to receive a National Planning Excellence Award, given jointly by the American Planning Association and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

We also reported on the upcoming groundbreaking of a 60-unit senior multifamily project at Twiggs Circle by the Augusta Housing Authority, as well as the imminent development of single-family and duplex homes by the Laney-Walker Development Corp. and Builders of Hope.

These new developments bring us to a total of six distinct development projects occurring simultaneously in Laney-Walker development. Moreover, it signifies that the overall LWB project is seeing activity in four of our six priority development areas – remarkable progress given the relatively short time frame in which LWB has been underway.

 

THE BIG NEWS here is that the Augusta Housing and Community Development Department, which serves as the master developer for LWB, is no longer just focused on our flagship development Heritage Pine, but is now entering a new phase in which we are managing numerous development projects at the same time. That’s quite a feat for a public entity, and all of Augusta should feel pride in seeing firsthand what Harvard University a few years ago identified as this city’s “game-changing model” for public-private urban revitalization.

None of this was reported in The Augusta Chronicle’s most recent article. Instead, the sole focus of this article was on one of our project areas – Foundry Place – and the bumps in the road this project has faced owing to a decision of Georgia Regents University Augusta to work with the city on the Mills campus. The discussion of this particular project took perhaps three minutes of our 90-minute meeting, all of which occurred during the Q&A portion of the agenda – hardly the central focus of our meeting.

I’ve spent most of my professional life in public service, and certainly understand that “bad” news sells newspapers while “good” news does not. But the public deserves at the very least balanced reporting, an objective The Chronicle fell far short of in its reporting.

I strongly believe that a rising tide floats all boats. Obviously, my department and colleagues are invested in trying to attract as much development and investment into Laney-Walker/Bethlehem as possible.

But we also are pragmatists. We know that not every grocery store or ArtSpace project or student housing project is going to locate in Laney-Walker/Bethlehem. That’s OK. In fact, it’s more than OK. As long as we are attracting development activity within our urban core area, all neighborhoods, from Harrisburg to Olde Town to the Central Business District, will benefit in the long run.

 

A GAIN FOR the Mills campus is not a loss for Laney-Walker/Bethlehem. On the contrary – it makes our entire urban core all the more vibrant.

 

(The writer is director of the city’s Housing and Community Development Department.)

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