Sun, May 19, 2024

Economic development on key part of Augusta

Demolition of the Augusta-Richmond County Joint Law Enforcement Center (LEC) at 401 Walton Way has left city officials with a question. What is next for a site that can be a gateway to the city?

Looking for direction, the city partnered with the Augusta Economic Development Authority (AEDA) to bring the Technical Assistance Panel of the Urban Land Institute-Atlanta (ULI) to meet with commissioners, stakeholders, and community members with an interest in the property.

Daphne Bond-Godfrey, Executive Director of ULI-Atlanta, said the organization is a non-profit made up of real estate developers with an interest in urban planning, design, and construction. Their first step is to become acquainted with the site, its location and get public input.

“We have seen the community, we’ve gone on a site tour on a city bus, we’ve now talked to probably 20 or 30 different stakeholders across the gamut from churches, people who represent church organizations all the way to Tax Commissioner,” she said.

Bond-Godfrey said the May 1 activities would be followed by closed meetings on Friday at the May Park Community Center.

“And really thinking about what we learned today, what are our recommendations? What are the things that we’re going to tell the city that we think are market viable, that speak to what the community needs and wants?”

Participating in the Thursday session were Mayor Garnett Johnson and District 2 Commissioner Stacy Pullium, District 6 Commissioner Tony Lewis, District 9 Commissioner Francine Scott, and District 10 Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle.

District 1 Commissioner Jordan Johnson also attended the session. He has a vested interest in the future of the site which sits in his district.

“This area is prime. It is one of the many welcome mats for the City of Augusta,” he told ABD. “I’m proud that we have an opportunity to put something at the site other than a jail and really speaks to the future the neighborhood.  I would love to see something that encompasses retail, housing, green space, something that you can connect to a brand new May Park, maybe a grocery store. Who knows? But I’m excited about the potential that it presents because we could desperately use some love on this side of Gordon Highway.”

Cal Wray, Executive Director of AEDA, agreed it is an important piece of property with the potential to be a gateway welcoming people to the city. He told ABD citizens should be open with their opinions, their wish list, for what should be built.

 “We don’t know if it makes financial sense, but what do they really want? What would they like in their neighborhood? We’ve tried to not taint the experts and what they may come back with. We’ve given them no guidance. We want them to come back with what they think is the highest and best use and what’s best for the neighborhood to spur development,” he said.”

What should be built is not the only question to be answered for the site’s future. There is also the question of how to develop the city-owned property.

“Is it something the city should do by themselves? Is it something the city should partner with someone else? It doesn’t necessarily have to be private,” explained Jonathan Gelber, Chairman of the Technical Assistance Panel for Augusta. “It could be an educational facility, it could be a healthcare facility, it could be anything? Or should the city just say, ‘We’re going to flip this and let somebody else take care of it?’ There’s a lot of different options here. Our panel has worked on many, many different opportunities like this. So, we’re going to bring some of that experience to help the city.

The LEC opened in the mid-1980s, but it fell victim to water leaks, mold, and other potential health hazards. It was finally closed in 2012 after the new Richmond County Sheriff’s Office was completed across the street. It was used briefly to film the 2021 movie “The Suicide Squad.” Demolition is complete and just a sign for deputies’ vehicles parking and the flag poles remain.

Bond-Godfrey said it will take 8 to 10 weeks for their final report and recommendations to be completed and provided to the city.

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