Master plan in need of support

The desired end would be an overhaul of south Augusta's gateway corridors, with such eyesore-ridden intersections as Gordon Highway and Deans Bridge Road transformed into bustling hamlets where people live, work, play and, above all, open their wallets.

The Augusta Commission has hired architect John Shields, president of ShieldsDESIGN LLC, to develop a citywide master plan showing how that can happen, picking up where the downtown plan he authored and unveiled in February left off. This time, he's being assisted by Georgia Tech's College of Architecture.

But a plan is worthless without execution, and for his designs to be executed they need community buy-in, Mr. Shields told commissioners at a workshop meeting Thursday. As he did with his last study, he wants to form an advisory committee made up of city leaders, commission district representatives and some of the business leaders who might one day get the envisioned projects off the ground.

"It's a group that may be the core of following activities," Mr. Shields said.

He proposed having the mayor, the mayor pro tem and two or three other commissioners on the panel, along with commission appointees from each district, city department heads, authority representatives and a representative of the state Department of Transportation. Other committee members would be from industrial and commercial businesses, the real estate brokerage community, Fort Gordon, Georgia Power, colleges such as Medical College of Georgia, the CSRA Land Trust and the Savannah River Institute.

Mr. Shields also proposed getting an entity involved that doesn't normally speak out on municipal issues: the Augusta National Golf Club.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver said the club has long considered itself isolated, not really part of the larger city, but he believes that has been changing since the National started buying property outside its borders during the past decade.

A representative said the club would consider the offer, if approached.

"We always strive to be good neighbors and partners with the city of Augusta," Augusta National spokesman Steve Ethun wrote in an e-mail.

Commissioners also talked about another kind of buy-in they're looking for -- outside help in paying for the $498,000 Shields contract. When a second master plan was proposed earlier this year, commissioners said south Augusta's private industries and employers could chip in, along with Hephzibah and Blythe, but the commission has since approved paying the full contract amount.

Commissioner Don Grantham asked Mr. Shields if he had a plan to solicit contributions, to which Mr. Shields said he's not experienced in fundraising.

Mr. Shields asked commissioners to give him their committee nominees by July 4. In a timeline he presented, Mr. Shields proposed gathering suggestions from the public in two rounds of three-day input sessions, similar to the town hall meetings held while he was working on the last master plan, in August.

He said he expects to unveil the new plan in late July 2010.

While he's covering all areas of the city, commissioners have asked him to focus on south Augusta. Mr. Shields said he'll look at corridors such as Gordon Highway and Deans Bridge, Peach Orchard, Windsor Spring and Tobacco roads.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.