Originally created 05/27/98

Take up the gauntlet 052798 - The Augusta Chronicle



In 1982 a new and exciting riverfront development strategy was unveiled by H.M. Osteen and a group of activists called Augusta Tomorrow, a public-private business consortium. Up to 20 projects totaling $120 million were recommended, including a brick "riverwalk" esplanade and a riverfront convention hotel. Critics derided it as far too optimistic. What happened? Most of those projects were successful -- along with much more, including a "cultural corridor" that later emerged.

Now Monty Osteen is back with some new players, including elected officials and leaders of several communitywide groups. They share an even broader vision: A plan to transform consolidated Augusta-Richmond County into a world-class community.

This time, the new coalition is called Greater Augusta Progress. It has commissioned LDR International, a group that advised Augusta Tomorrow, to make a strategic assessment of the whole community and to offer recommendations for a long-range growth management plan in October.

The overall strategy will dovetail with preparation for the 1999 Georgia Games Championships here. The event -- expected to generate about 20,000 visitors -- has sparked construction of several venues. The "biggies" are a multi-sports complex and an aquatic center.

Greater Augusta Progress rightly feels these projects, located in various parts of our sprawling community, should be accompanied by better coordinated local planning, "urban growth boundaries" and conservation zones.

The group's plan divides Augusta-Richmond County into six sectors -- but doesn't use the usual helter-skelter political boundaries. It separates Augusta into an organization of neighborhoods and communities. In the central sector, for example, the strategy calls for ways to redevelop as much as 3 million square feet of underutilized real estate, including Regency Mall.

Can all segments of our community "pull together," in Osteen's words, with regard to planning and priorities? We're optimistic everyone can. But while many political leaders appear to be aboard this train as it pulls out, the catalyst for progress will have to come from strong business and civic leadership and participation.

That's the way it was in the '80s and '90s, as Augusta Tomorrow's vision evolved into reality. Now, the gauntlet has been flung down again to both the private sector and government. We think it is a challenge that will be met.