The Augusta-Richmond County Historic Preservation Commission approved the first phase of the Augusta Common project Thursday.
The unanimous vote paved the way for demolition of buildings in the 800 block of Broad Street in about six weeks and construction to begin in two to three months. Completion of the greenspace project that is expected to become "the heart of the center city" should take about a year, said Augusta's Assistant Public Works Director Drew Goins.
When finished, the Common will provide a greenbelt stretching across half the 800 block from the riverfront to Broad Street.
Commissioners approved member Bryan Haltermann's motion to approve the project with two stipulations: that the designs for a two-story building near the Reynolds Street side be brought back to the commission for approval and that city officials work with the historic preservation commission to find and install more attractive and historically representative lighting in the Common.
The upper floor of the proposed two-story building will contain a gallery overlooking the Common, an office and meeting room. The lower floor will house public restrooms and maintenance equipment.
The five buildings to be demolished in the 800 block of Broad Street are:
829 Broad St., which most recently housed the World of Music.
833 Broad St., which most recently housed the Ambasa Gift Shop.
841 Broad St., a 1940s structure known as the Rayless Department Store building.
845 Broad St., the former location of the Richmond County Health Department.
824 Reynolds St., a building next to the Sun Trust parking deck.
The Common area also encompasses the parking lots behind the buildings.
The historic preservation commission had tabled approval of the demolitions and construction at an earlier meeting pending three issues which have now been resolved, Mr. Goins said.
One of those issues was that property the city had under option had not been closed on. Another was that construction plans were not complete. The final issue was that the fate of some historic tiles on the 841 building had not been settled.
Since then, the owner of the building and another party have agreed to remove the tiles before demolition, store them and then use them on another historic structure in Augusta, commissioners said.
One commissioner asked whether the city has the money to proceed with the project once the historic buildings are demolished. He voiced concern that the vacant lots might just sit there until the money was available.
Mr. Goins assured him the city had sufficient money for the project.
In April the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp.'s oversight committee agreed to support the project with $750,000.
Primary funding will come from the city's 1-cent sales tax and an assortment of smaller funding sources.
The Common is proposed in the city's master plan that states, "The heart of the City Center will be the new Common, which will serve as the central gathering place for citizens."
The master plan is an initiative of Augusta Tomorrow, a business leadership group.
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.