Originally created 05/25/04

Augusta searches for an identity



Augusta is missing something many other cities have, and city commissioners are willing to spend $10,000 to help downtown leaders find it.

"If you hear Ybor City, you might think of Tampa," Rick Toole, the chairman of Main Street Augusta, told city Finance Committee members Monday.

"If you think of the Straw Market, you might think of Charleston. But if you think of Augusta, if you think of the downtown area of Augusta, you don't have anything to relate to. There's no affiliation."

That is why the Main Street promotions committee has selected a Columbia marketing firm to come up with a branding plan to promote downtown, Mr. Toole said.

More than 50 percent of the people in Columbia County have never been to downtown Augusta, and many people in Richmond County have never visited the area, Mr. Toole said.

The city has the elements needed to draw people, said Juana Gustin, the director of business development for The Adams Group, the company chosen to develop a downtown brand.

To find downtown Augusta's "essence," which is what branding establishes, she said, the company will research what Augusta is all about, what it might be lacking and what everyone from community leaders to regular folks think about it, she said.

"What we're here to do is start the research," she said. "From there, we will go into a strategic plan, and from that plan we will have branding positioning and will launch branding."

The total cost of researching and developing the marketing campaign for downtown Augusta is $65,000.

"What you're getting is campaign strategy and an image," Mr. Toole said. "Round two is the actual advertising and public relations campaign of promoting downtown throughout the Augusta area."

The committee voted to recommend spending the money.

"I'm hoping we will lend a hand there if we can find the funding available," Commissioner Betty Beard said.

In other action Monday, the Finance Committee authorized water and sewerage revenue bonds in an amount not to exceed $160 million.

The committee also received information from internal auditor J.T. Cosnahan concerning projects and money remaining in the first three phases of special-purpose sales tax funds, but those figures need to be compared to public works, recreation and other departments' sales-tax budgets before commissioners start spending any undesignated balances, commissioners agreed.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.