Wed, April 24, 2024

Fresh start for a familiar building in Augusta

A 20th-century building that was a hub of activity in Augusta is being re-purposed for 21st-century use. The former headquarters for the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce will become an incubator for new businesses and an accelerator for exciting businesses.

A partnership between Augusta Technical College (ATC) and Augusta’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) will turn the building at 600 Broad Street into a microenterprise center. It will be called Accelerate Augusta.

The future home of Accelerate Augusta was designed by renowned architect, I.M. Pei.

ATC President, Dr. Jermaine Whirl said the main room can be used for business owners to pitch their businesses, similar to the television show “Shark Tank.” The entrepreneur will be surrounded by a circle of “sharks” to give them experience in talking about their business.

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“And we’re going to have on the second level of this, spaces for about four to five companies that are going to be startups,” Whirl added. “They’re going to be able to incubate and have a variety of resources. Those resources also include an entrepreneur in residence, a person that’s been very successful and has done startups, they’re going to be their mentor, coach, also teaching classes in an available space.”

It will serve as a shared space location, an incubator for entrepreneurs and small business start-ups, as well as welcoming existing businesses.

Augusta Tech President, Dr. Jermaine Whirl and DDA Executive Director, Margaret Woodward believe the partnership will boost business development.

Margaret Woodard, Executive Director of the DDA, said the need for such a facility became obvious three years ago.

“In 2020, when the COVID pandemic threatened to derail communities around the world, it was estimated that 35% of small businesses in new startups would not survive the pandemic,” explained Woodward. “As we started working with these small businesses, it became very evident that there was not a centralized location for all the resources to help these budding businesses get started in good times or bad. So, in December of 2021, I met with Dr. Whirl, and we decided to start a partnership to open a micro-enterprise center in downtown Augusta.”

It’s anticipated that the Accelerate Augusta will breathe new life into that area of Broad Street.

In addition to nurturing new businesses, Woodard said activity at the building can help to redevelop that area of Broad Street.

“You’re going to have students and entrepreneurs and 24/7 activity around here. It’s called the halo effect. And that’s what we look at once there’s a project and we watch the halo effect and see what buildings go under contract. Property values go up, so we’ll be watching that for a couple of years,” she said.

Designed by renowned architect, I.M. Pei, who also designed the penthouse on the top of the Lamar Building and the Augusta Civic Center, now the James Brown Arena, it was used by the Chamber beginning in the mid-1970’s until 2010. The Chamber first moved to Greene Street, then to its current location in the Riverfront Center on 10th Street in 2016.

After the Chamber moved, The Augusta Regional Collaboration began using the building. It has also been used by the Greater Augusta Arts Council and has been available for rental.

Target opening date for the center is the fall of 2024.

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