A few weeks ago, a story surfaced about plans to build a large amphitheater in south Richmond County.
As the story developed, it became evident that due diligence had not, perhaps, been applied to the project as neighbors, the county government and other interested parties discovered that it had been developing without permission, approval or a public polling of any kind.
Though I admired the enthusiasm, it seemed like a fairly foolish oversight that, in the end, might be symptomatic of a project destined to flounder. After all, this was not the first grand scheme the Augusta area had seen flounder on its evidently rocky shores.
Over the past several years there have been plans floated for another south Augusta amphitheater, a Performing Arts Center, a couple of baseball stadiums and an arena. There was even talk of a waterpark. That would be cool. Everyone loves a waterpark. All of these projects have faltered, or at least met with stiff opposition, for a variety of reasons with a single common denominator:
Each one would have cost someone a lot of money.
Be they privately (a few) orpublicly (most) funded, each of these projects would require the kind of serious fiscal investment that a couple bake sales and a car wash just will not cover.
Millions of dollars. Multiple millions of dollars.
Enough millions of dollars that each has been greeted with cries of protest and outrage. The most common complaint is that investing the kind of money, time and effort these projects would require would mean funneling funds away from serious civic infrastructure.
A common argument, for instance, is that cash spent on a project – let’s say a baseball stadium for the sake of argument – could be better spent bolstering local law enforcement.
Though I understand and respect the desire to fund law enforcement to the fullest, I do believe we are talking about money coming from two very different places. I also believe that addressing immediate shortfalls is important, but so is taking a long-term look at what this community should, can and will become.
And that takes big ideas.
Look, I’m not so foolish as to believe that every big idea introduced is a winner. In fact, taking a tally, most erred on the side of ill-conceived. But that doesn’t negate the need for a big idea. It doesn’t negate the positive power of a large regional facility or attraction.
Some will argue that the TEE Center fills that spot. I disagree. I think it’s a fine facility that will do the city some good, but it’s not the kind of thing that, without a reason, people will travel to see.
They will come for events – conventions, trade shows and the like – they are involved in. A ballgame at the river or an A-list concert at a beautiful venue will attract people on impulse. It’s the civic equivalent of gum by the cash register.
There are also those who might argue that this sort of big-idea thinking won’t work in Augusta, that its geographic proximity to both Columbia and Atlanta leave it working at too significant a disadvantage. That’s just silly. Augusta, in fact, is built on the back of one such big idea.
In less than two weeks, Augusta National Golf Club will open its gates once again and as a result, restaurants will make their year, hotels will fill every room at premium prices and literally hundreds of mortgages will be paid. All because one man had the audacity to build a golf course in what was then the middle of nowhere. The Masters is a very big idea.
And that’s just one week a year.
While building a Big Idea equal in stature to the Augusta National is all but impossible, it is possible, with courageous investment, to create something that can produce significant dividends 52 weeks a year.
All it takes is one good idea – a big one.