Originally created 09/01/02

North Augusta plan would benefit entire region



What is now the city of North Augusta was first settled as Savannah Town in the early 1700s. Considered a gateway to the Western frontier, the settlement was home to English fur traders who would take their goods down the river to Charles Town (now Charleston, S.C.) and from there to England.

The bustling town died after about 50 years when a group of merchants set up a trading post on the Georgia side, downriver from present-day Augusta.

Savannah Town went under because of intense competition from its neighbor across the river. Officials today on both sides of the river believe that in 300 years quite a lot has changed.

"We have to be good neighbors - it's not an option," said Chuck Smith, an Aiken County Council member whose district includes North Augusta. "We're inextricably tied together, whether we like it or not. We have to work together to spur economic development. We must present ourself as a region, not as territorial communities. What's good for North Augusta is good for Augusta."

In that case, Augusta has a lot to look forward to.

The final design and development agreement for North Augusta's riverfront project just west of the 13th Street bridge is expected by December.

Work on the 200-acre "neo-traditional" development, which mixes residential, retail and commercial uses, including a 100- to 200-room hotel and meeting center, is scheduled to begin in January.

Building on subdivided lots is to begin in July or August. People could be moving in as soon as September 2003, said Skip Grkovic, director of economic and community development for North Augusta.

"It's a project that will benefit both sides of the river," he said.

Bryan Quinsey knows a thing or two about promoting regionalism. As executive director of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce and interim director of economic development for the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, he has little choice.

Positive growth in Aiken and Edgefield counties, with projects that include the river development, the new North Augusta Wal-Mart and the Interstate 520 extension, will make the surrounding counties, including Richmond and Columbia, that much stronger, he said.

Competition for expanding industry and development will also help, he said.

"I've seen areas where all the growth is happening in one county and the other counties are dying because of it," Mr. Quinsey said. "I'd rather live in an area like this with competition, where every county has strengths, and the whole region benefits."

Other Augusta leaders point out that economics doesn't heed county lines. A new business in Aiken County will likely employ some workers from Richmond County; South Carolina workers spend their money in Georgia. Augusta's riverfront development has had a positive impact on North Augusta; Augusta can expect to benefit from North Augusta's river project.

"Growth in the region is growth in the region," said Robert Osborne, chairman of the Augusta chamber. "As Savannah River Site grows, it helps Georgia; as Fort Gordon grows, it helps South Carolina. If it's in this area, I'm all for it."

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or john.banks@augustachronicle.com.