Turning downtown around

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It seems like every time you turn around, some consultant is doing some study about some aspect of Augusta.

One of those studies came across our desk not too long ago. Here are some excerpts from it:

- "Downtown Augusta shares with other central city business districts myriad problems of age, functional obsolescence, traffic congestion, parking and a general lack of amenities."

- "Shopping downtown has become a burden and a bore."

- "As long as the railroad remains, downtown Augusta will find it difficult (if not impossible) to project an image of a modern, up-to-date shopping district capable of competing with new regional centers in the suburbs."

- "All of the problems cited above combine to create additional major problems for the downtown. Foremost among these is the growing number of vacancies in downtown stores and shops ... ."

All of those observations are absolutely true.

And all of those observations were made about Augusta more than 40 years ago .

The study we just quoted is from 1968, titled "Downtown Augusta: A plan for expansion and revitalization of the central area of Augusta, Georgia." So don't confuse it with the downtown master plan that was unveiled this past February.

Nor should you confuse it with the 1982 plan vigorously advocated by a then-nascent Augusta Tomorrow.

Nor should you confuse it with the 1995 re-tweaking of the 1982 plan.

In 1968 Augusta officials and business owners grappled with many of the same problems the city faces now.

By the late 1960s, downtown Augusta was in decline -- and this was way before Augusta and Regency malls opened in 1978. As the city grew residentially away from the river, merchants closed up shop on Broad Street and followed the growth. People had fewer reasons to come downtown anymore.

And the people who did come downtown had to cope with the ridiculous inconvenience of active railroads. The passing trains that stalled traffic for our grandparents are stalling us still today.

Then there's parking. A story on traffic woes in The Augusta Chronicle from 1969 cited complaints about angled parking in a traffic committee study -- done in 1952 .

Let that sink in for a minute: Augusta parking downtown has posed problems for at least more than a half-century.

So what does that say about Augusta's progress? Has there actually been any?

Yes and no.

With master plans and urban development, you're playing a long game. In most cases it's not a magic bullet. It's more of a long treatment toward a cure.

We mentioned the 1982 master plan. Developers were still chipping away at that project list in the mid-1990s. And it yielded results -- Riverwalk Augusta, the Jessye Norman Amphitheater, a renovated Lamar Building and a riverfront hotel and convention center, among others.

But the same problems persist. The empty storefronts. The traffic.

And other projects never materialized. Plans for an office plaza included the demolition of the Imperial Theatre. Another proposal called for a full-scale re-creation of the original 18th-century Fort Augusta, as a living-history exhibit.

But that's another aspect of downtown master plans. Fixing a city isn't like fixing a car. A city isn't static. It changes. Its people change and their needs change. So the plan changes.

But one thing never changes: It takes a united will to make such plans work. Government can make most anything happen, but citizens have to buy into it for a plan to truly succeed. The much-anticipated Kroc Center is a splendid example of what can be done if a community unites.

A new year is less than a couple of weeks away. A new Augusta Commission will be seated that many hope will inject positive change into the city. New statistics show Augusta's resilience -- bending but not breaking under the weight of a weakening economy.

Could 2010 be the year that downtown turns around?

The master plan unveiled in February is an excellent jumping-off point. If public and private hands pitch in together based on that, the designers' conceptions of Augusta's future can come to life, instead of staying on paper as they did in 1968.

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Riverman1
84067
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Riverman1 12/20/09 - 01:16 am
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Downtowns all over the

Downtowns all over the country have changed since the 60's. The ones that have been successful have transformed into entertainment, dining, arts and small specialty shops. Downtown August will not be a business or shopping destination until Savannah Rapids Pavilion reverts back to Richmond County ownership&#0133in other words, at least 30 years. Concentrate on what works.

johnston.cliff
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johnston.cliff 12/20/09 - 01:19 am
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One common thread that runs

One common thread that runs through all of the studies of the past 50 years and through all of the master plans is the fact that such a large part of downtown is subsidy housing playgrounds. Until we can get the ghetto attitude and the ghetto flavor out of greater downtown, everything we do will come across as ghetto investment. For all that feel this isn't the case, take a leisurely stroll down the levee 11 o'clock some evening, just you and your date. The subsidy problem has to be addressed to stop this article from being run in 2050 and still having it be true.

Riverman1
84067
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Riverman1 12/20/09 - 01:20 am
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But I love downtown. It's

But I love downtown. It's kind of like the editorial said the other day. People have been gathering together since the beginning of time. Downtown has a vibrancy of multi-believers not worrying about cutting the lawns in the suburbs. It brings out the same feelings people have had in downtowns all over the world since the founding of Damascus. Traffic, music, noise, bustle, laziness and colored lights all making you feel that you've come in from the desert. Go downtown and you can't believe you were ever alone. The roulette wheel is spinning. There's something about a lot of people wanting to have fun coming together in an urban area. If THE comet is going to hit, I want to be watching with a bunch of downtown people, pointing up, drinks in hand and when it breaks into the atmosphere, we spontaneously grab each others arms like people have done forever... downtown.

thewiz0oz
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thewiz0oz 12/20/09 - 03:06 am
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Downtown Augusta is the

Downtown Augusta is the epic-center of the CSRA.

thewiz0oz
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thewiz0oz 12/20/09 - 03:07 am
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A 30 mile circle includes

A 30 mile circle includes Waynesboro, Thompson, Aiken, Edgefield, North Augusta, Evans & all in between & all were birthed out of Downtown Augusta

thewiz0oz
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thewiz0oz 12/20/09 - 03:13 am
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Downtown Augusta is where

Downtown Augusta is where Oglethorpe stepped off the boat over 250 years ago, George Washing visited in 1792, two young boys, Tommy Woodrow Wilson & Joseph Lamar played baseball together before one became President & the other a member of the Supreme Court

thewiz0oz
9
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thewiz0oz 12/20/09 - 03:22 am
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Three signers of the

Three signers of the Declaration of Independence called Augusta home. Augusta's unique history &beautiful riverfront shared with North Augusta makes for an exceptional destination.

thewiz0oz
9
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thewiz0oz 12/20/09 - 03:25 am
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The Masters, Futurity, Aiken

The Masters, Futurity, Aiken Trials and more recently the Ironman esi , brings people from all over the world to meet & do businesses here.

thewiz0oz
9
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thewiz0oz 12/20/09 - 03:29 am
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There are many worthwhile

There are many worthwhile initiatives in our combined communities that parallel each other but we need more convergence in areas common to all. With two states & numerous local governments there is a challenge but also an opportunity.

thewiz0oz
9
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thewiz0oz 12/20/09 - 03:31 am
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We have two Governors & four

We have two Governors & four US Senators representing our trade area. We are stronger when we work together than when we work separately. Downtown is the common thread that binds together all of the CSRA.

thewiz0oz
9
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thewiz0oz 12/20/09 - 03:33 am
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please forgive my numerous

please forgive my numerous posts -- for some reason it would only accept it in bites -- i am signing off!!

Brad Owens
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Brad Owens 12/20/09 - 05:26 am
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I love the idea of Ft.

I love the idea of Ft. Augusta being rebuilt. Now THAT would bring tourists in. Why not put it on the pension property? We could have reenactments of the massacre (where we colonials killed the Scots/Brits almost to the last man. We could recreate the pine tree tower that we built to shell the Brit Army. All kidding aside, THAT sounds like tourist destination stuff to me, not the Golf Gardens. Plus the train depot is there and can be converted to restaurants and nitch retail. And it is RIGHT behind the actual Augusta Museum of History. That is the first thing I have heard in a long time that made me sit up and listen. That and the bike path along the cnal Any Jordan keeps talking about with Andy Cheek.

Brad Owens
4441
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Brad Owens 12/20/09 - 05:28 am
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That would be the bike path

That would be the bike path along the Augusta Canal that Andy Jordan keeps talking about linking Columbia County and Downtown Augusta/North Augusta with Andy Cheek in support.

Ga Values
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Ga Values 12/20/09 - 07:30 am
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Augusta needs better strip

Augusta needs better strip clubs..

stadry
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stadry 12/20/09 - 07:35 am
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the bike path's a great

the bike path's a great idea,,, more bikers per hr for the muggers imn-s-fho

UncleStrom
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UncleStrom 12/20/09 - 07:38 am
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Ga Values, good point, I

Ga Values, good point, I really miss Baby Dolls and their tropical fish tank. Also, there was never a parking space problem, I just used the church parking lot next door.

catfish201
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catfish201 12/20/09 - 07:49 am
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I enjoyed reading the

I enjoyed reading the positive post regarding downtown Augusta. I love downtown and can't wait for the
Tee Center, new hotel, bike path and hopefully the stadium to be built. Fort Augusta sounds interesting and I would like to know more about this potential project. Maybe the Chronicle can follow up with a more detailed article.

crackertroy
540
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crackertroy 12/20/09 - 08:00 am
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Put a Wal-Mart with a
Unpublished

Put a Wal-Mart with a McDonald's inside on Broad Street: Problem solved. haha

thewiz0oz
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thewiz0oz 12/20/09 - 08:21 am
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catfish20 -- you need to

catfish20 -- you need to check out augustatomorrow.com & look over th Master Plan just recently announced -- for the first time EVER Augusta & North Augusta have joined together for long-term planning -- it focusses on the areas on both side of the Savannah River

thewiz0oz
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thewiz0oz 12/20/09 - 08:24 am
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crackertroy--WALMART & Big

crackertroy--WALMART & Big Mac eaters would never feed parking meters so downtown would never do for them -- they only want to feed their face -- our obesity rates must be maintained

seenitB4
87304
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seenitB4 12/20/09 - 09:49 am
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If Roswell & Alpharetta can

If Roswell & Alpharetta can revitalize their ole towns,, Augusta should be able to do the same,,, by the way it helps to have deep pocket folks running the show...surely we still have deep pockets in Augusta..

Ga Values
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Ga Values 12/20/09 - 10:23 am
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UncleStrom I miss the OM

UncleStrom I miss the OM Marine Room, The legacy of Devany has killed the night life of Augusta..

Niko Mahs
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Niko Mahs 12/20/09 - 10:30 am
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Good Luck with that!

Good Luck with that!

deekster
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deekster 12/20/09 - 10:40 am
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One "essential factor" is

One "essential factor" is always omitted from "why downtown failed". That fact is "ethnic culture". Not the color of anyone's skin. I don't think there were every any "white" people in Augusta. Crayola "flesh tone" would be more accurate. People of color are rarely "black". But culture, a way of life, attitude, self respect, work ethic and basic human decency have glaring differences. I remember downtown Augusta of the fifties and sixties. Working class people shopping for everything. A lot walked from their homes or road the city buses. We rode the bus from S. Augusta to downtown. Then one day a brick broke the window and hit the bus driver on Turpin Hill. We didn't ride the bus to downtown anymore. Then females could not walk down the sidewalk without be pushed or bumped by "crowds of political activists" on every corner and at every bus stop. "Flesh colored" people were systematically driven from downtown by a "cultural group" that wanted "control" of something that had been denied to them in the past. Shopping downtown became a "safari" of sorts. The money, the commerce, the heart left downtown.

scott-hudson
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scott-hudson 12/20/09 - 10:46 am
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The First Saturday Crew is

The First Saturday Crew is operating off of a "study" that was conceived in 1971 by the great-great grandson of one Mr. Cummings. The commission will get the results of that "study" in January...Outdoor Augusta is about to be born.

UncleStrom
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UncleStrom 12/20/09 - 10:47 am
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LOL deekster, excellent post!

LOL deekster, excellent post! You are of course speaking of the "Indigenous Population". Well said.

UncleStrom
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UncleStrom 12/20/09 - 10:52 am
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Scott, great news. Thank you

Scott, great news. Thank you for your continued digging. I don't know what we'd do without you and Johnny Edwards.

deekster
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deekster 12/20/09 - 10:53 am
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"A pleasant shopping

"A pleasant shopping experience". Now that would be a "game plan" for downtown Augusta. No just large cities, but small rural towns have an environment that draws people to a commerce center. Others buy a plan and relocate government offices to their main streets filling empty shops and giving the appearance of a commerce center. Augusta seems to have perpetuated a mantra of "my turf". Augusta has never recovered from May 1970. I don't know if it ever will. New "mega structures" will not heal this town. Augusta will not admit its sin, and therefore cannot repent and be saved. All "ethnic cultures" know the truth, but dare not state it publicly. Racism and culture are two entirely different things. Until we can openly talk about our cultural difference and why they clash, Noman Rockwells' ghost will not visit in our town.

chascush
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chascush 12/20/09 - 11:23 am
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Down town Aiken is doing

Down town Aiken is doing great because it does not have the ghetto attitude and the ghetto flavor that Augusta has.

Riverman1
84067
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Riverman1 12/20/09 - 11:32 am
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"Until we can openly talk

"Until we can openly talk about our cultural difference and why they clash, Noman Rockwells' ghost will not visit in our town."....Great line, Deekster.

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