Turning downtown Augusta into an entertainment district would be a grave mistake, a city planner told Augusta's planning commission Monday - but not for the reasons that sparked months of debate between members of a Broad Street synagogue and supporters of a proposed bar.
Kelvin Powell, who studied the idea of a downtown entertainment district for the planning board, told the commission that Augusta not only is too small to support such an zone but it also lacks the kind of "big draw" that makes such districts successful.
After studying other cities throughout the nation, he said, he believes that places that have benefited from entertainment districts most are typically home to a large ball club or theme park.
"Downtown Augusta is still growing, and to convert it to an entertainment zone would be to restrict its future," he told the planning commission.
The planning board will revisit the item next month, likely looking at the appointment of a downtown resource panel that would represent government offices, loft apartment residents and downtown merchants, in addition to bar and restaurant owners.
Last year, discussion surrounding a proposed entertainment district increased after an Augusta businessman was denied alcohol and dance hall licenses for his Broad Street bar when officials discovered an Orthodox Jewish synagogue was meeting in a former storefront next door. City law prohibits bars from opening within 100 yards of a place of worship.
Turning part of the downtown area into an entertainment district, however, would have removed or reduced those distance requirements.
Mr. Powell said that because about 50 percent of the downtown area is still vacant, the city should avoid "pigeonholing" it.
"We need to consider future growth," he said. "To restrict it to a certain zone would not be doing the city any justice."
Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.