Facility leads development

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NORTH AUGUSTA --- Living on Clifton Avenue in downtown North Augusta puts Lillie Waller's family in the middle of the city's expansion. She'll also be in the heart of the city center North Augusta leaders plan to create over the next 20 years.

But she wants North Augusta to keep the charm that drew her from Connecticut two years ago instead of becoming another Augusta.

"I hope when I'm old and walking with a cane, I can tell people I saw all of this grown," she said. "I just hope it doesn't become a place for loitering."

Although this week's buzz is about the municipal center opening for the first public tours Sunday, the opening really marks the beginnings of North Augusta developing as a "must-see" spot along the Savannah River. Based on the master plan drawn up with Augusta Tomorrow this year, the new downtown will lead to development around the building.

The opening of Center Street, which stretches from the intersection of Georgia and Bluff avenues to the Savannah River through Hammond's Ferry, a mixed-use development, will open the area to more development.

Mayor Lark Jones has said he wants the building to be for the public, not him or the employees. The Palmetto Terrace Ballroom and Arts and Heritage Center will serve as the primary means for bringing in visitors. Residents say the expansive presence of the building also draws people.

"As you're coming into the city from Georgia you get the beautiful view of Lookaway Hall and the building and as you leave, it gives a lasting impression," said Roger White.

Hank McKenney, a longtime North Augusta resident and former mayor, said that in the next 20 years he sees the city remaining primarily residential but offering more services because of development.

"We'll still want that small town atmosphere," he said.

While downtown is on the cusp of booming, U.S. Highway 25 near Interstate 20 is also on the verge of commercial expansion as the Palmetto Parkway nears completion.

Skip Grkovic, North Augusta's economic and community development director, said last week that the city will try to maintain a balance so there isn't a "north North Augusta and a south North Augusta."

Hammond's Ferry business owner and North Augusta resident David Towles said foot traffic in his area will increase, but development near the Palmetto Parkway will provide a different use and won't really be competition.

"It will be a different type of business center, maybe more industrial or chains," he said. "You'll see more individualized businesses down here (in Hammond's Ferry)."

"If they develop it in the way that I've seen, I don't see much changing," Mr. Towles said. "There will be more people and the tax base will increase and it will improve the schools. Handling the growth well, like they have, will only yield good results."

Mr. White and Laurie Scott both live outside city limits but say their use of downtown won't change as their side of town grows.

"I think it's going to be wonderful," Ms. Scott said. "I've been looking forward to the river being developed for years. The key to building the city is the restaurants. People go where the food is."

Reach Julia Sellers at (706) 823-3424 or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.

IF YOU GO

WHERE: Center Street

WHEN: 1:30-5 p.m. Sunday

- 1:30 p.m. Center Street ribbon-cutting ceremony

- 3 p.m. Municipal Center ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Palmetto Terrace Ballroom (fourth floor). Public invited to tour building. Performance by the Henrys.

ABOUT THE BUILDING

Created by the Boudreaux Group out of Columbia. Design was meant to be "traditional, timeless, welcoming and reflective of southern hospitality, serving as a catalyst and model for future town center development and possessing a strong civic presence," according to Heather Mitchell, the project manager of the company.

FUTURE PLANS

Historic North Augusta: Will create a town center toward the river from the new municipal building, connecting to Hammond's Ferry. Project costs estimated at $55 million, with $50 million coming from private funding. Expected to be established over the next 20 years.


Westobou Crossing: Will create a pedestrian bridge, possibly by closing the Fifth Street Bridge, that will link to Augusta.

Old Hamburg: Will create mixed-use community including housing, restaurants, retail, boat dock and fishing venue.

Buena Vista: Create a neighborhood similar to Hammond's Ferry in the East Buena Vista area.

UPCOMING OPENINGS

MUNICIPAL BUILDING: July 13, pending launch list completion. Hours will be Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

ARTS AND HERITAGE CENTER: July 7. Hours will be Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

ONLINE EXTRA


Video: An inside look at the new municipal building

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Anyone taking bets on how

Anyone taking bets on how long it will be until some drunk flying down Georgia Avenue runs through the front door?

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