By Margaret Woodard
Golf patrons and industry giants from around the world have visited downtown Augusta this past week to experience our many restaurants and museums and attend great events at the Augusta Common.
There are new venues to explore, such as the Riverwatch Brewery and Savannah River Brewing Company, both on 5th Street near the Fairgrounds.
The Olde Town Diner has recently opened on Greene Street, and serves up great home cooking 24 hours a day. Steady retail growth continues on the Broad Street corridor as well. This past year, Sweets on Broad, The Broad Street “Barkery” and Artsy Me Ceramic &Art Studio have opened their doors for business.
Plans are on the drawing board for three new restaurants, and an Escape Room is under construction.
Our visitors have seen fencing, construction dumpsters and demolition under way, as well as butcher paper covering storefronts where new projects are under construction. We hope they pardon our progress as we transform downtown Augusta – and visit us again next year, when they’ll see many exciting projects completed and additional projects under construction.
Hyatt House Hotel will break ground in June on upper Broad Street, and an extended-stay hotel will break ground at Reynolds and 9th Street. Both projects will add 240 rooms to our inventory, and represent $50 million in private investment. Both will have upper-floor bars, restaurants and amenities to capture a view of our beautiful Savannah River.
The historic Miller Theater restoration is near completion. The $17 million project is home to our symphony, and will open in the 2018 season with a state-of-the-art sound system and music academy.
Construction of a new Convention and Visitors Bureau is under way on Artists Row. The project will include a welcome center and amenities for the ultimate visitor experience, including guided golf cart tours throughout downtown.
In January, Gov. Nathan Deal announced the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center on the former Golf and Gardens 17-acre site on Reynolds Street by the river. Phase I will include a 150,000-square-foot facility that will focus on training and research and act as a hub for private start-up cyber companies. The project will house Augusta University’s cyber curriculum. The total investment is estimated at $50 million, and the exciting project will break ground in June.
Local investors are working to transform the Johnson Building and Woolworth Building along the 8th Street Corridor into the Augusta Innovation Zone, with cyber co-working space, a test lab for companies such as Snapchat and IBM, a rooftop bar, specialty retail shops and high-end loft apartments.
On upper Broad Street, construction is underway at the historic Sibley Mill. The project includes office space for an Augusta-based information technology firm, EDTS, a training center for UMBC out of Maryland, and a large-scale data storage center. This 500,000-square-foot restoration could reach $100 million in new investment.
Demand for residential housing downtown remains strong. In the last year 126 market-rate apartments were completed, and currently 25 lofts are under construction.
The J.B. White Building’s condominium project is 80 percent sold and selling at a rate of one per month – and the city of Augusta and Downtown Development Authority (DDA) are partnering with an outside developer to transform the historic Railroad Depot property on lower Reynolds into a large-scale mixed-use development.
Office use is on the increase as well. Unisys has located to Discovery Plaza on the river, with an estimated 700 employees, and the SunTrust Building has been purchased and plans for a new façade and interior improvements are on the drawing board.
We are investing in our infrastructure. In November of 2016, the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce unveiled the Transportation Investment Act (TIA) Mobility Concept Plans for six key improvement projects, including Broad Street – with over $100 million in new investments.
In January the DDA completed Phase I of James Brown Boulevard’s streetscape improvements, and plans to invest $1 million this year in improvements to Augusta’s Riverwalk.
The CVB just unveiled its Destination Blue Print, and the Greater Augusta Arts Council has unveiled a Public Art Master Plan for the city of Augusta – and both include exciting initiatives for the urban core.
Transformational change is occurring in downtown Augusta. We are growing from a midsize business and entertainment district to a vibrant and innovative work, live, play and invest city center.
This has been a unified group effort by elected city officials, the mayor and city administrator’s offices, economic development agencies and allies, developers and investors – and the results will be game-changing for our great city.
We hope our visitors have enjoyed it here – along with some great golf.
Like that golf, downtown Augusta is only getting better.
(The writer is executive director of Augusta’s Downtown Development Authority.)