Oct. 9, 2011
By The Outsider
The Augusta Chronicle had a very interesting read in Sunday's online edition by Carole Hawkins titled: Downtown Augusta seeks tipping point. It seems like we have heard this many times before. That downtown Augusta, with all its potential, just needs that spark to get going. It needs that "tipping point." What may surprise people is that despite all of the rosy rhetoric over the last several years about how downtown is on the upswing, the number of businesses in the downtown district has actually decreased by 27% over the last decade. So it seems things are going backwards. Downtown is taking one step forward and two steps back, or at the very best it is staying put in status quo.
So, just what is the magic bullet that is needed for downtown revitalization? A riverfront esplanade with an amphitheater? The Riverwalk is nice, although not well maintained, but since opening 25 years ago, it doesn't appear it was the tipping point for revitalizing downtown like it was hoped to do. A condo tower with an upscale mall with an exterior painted a peachy pink color? Been there done that, didn't work either. A children's science museum in the failed mall portion of the pink condo building? Ditto. It closed too. A new history museum? Check. Still no tipping point, but it has a leaky roof.
Well how about a hotel with a convention center? Got that covered. Still no tipping point yet.. maybe the convention center just needed to be bigger. Parking deck? A new one just opened. But the one that opened in the late 1970s didn't exactly attract cars or revitalization, and neither did the one at the hotel-convention center that this new one replaced. Maybe this one will be different and the new gigantic 40,000 sqft TEE center (eyes rolling) will be the magic bullet.. the tipping point... the catalyst! Well we will have to wait and see but it doesn't look promising with not one convention booked in its opening year and in 2013 only one convention has been booked, and it has been to town before and used the smaller facility.
Well what about a fancy tourist attraction to capitalize on Augusta's connection to professional golf? A Georgia Golf Hall of Fame and botanical gardens, yeah, that's the ticket! Well the state of Georgia and Augusta invested over $18 million of your tax dollars in that fantastic idea. Tipping point? More like weed patch. Yep, all that money and years later and all the city has to show for it is an expensive brick wall and a "Garden of Weedin'."
So what's next on the horizon? What's the next tipping point for downtown? Well mayor Deke just hates seeing that monument to failure formerly known as the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame just sitting there growing weeds producing no tax revenue. So he wants to build a city financed "multi-use" baseball park on the site. Yeah, that's the ticket, another taxpayer financed boondoggle. But hey, did anyone tell mayor Deke that a city owned ballpark won't generate any property taxes on that site either? Uh oh.
Some will argue that there WAS a tipping point downtown, and it happened when Main Street Augusta was essentially shut-down and The Downtown Development Authority took over as the primary guiding force and trustee of tax dollars for downtown revitalization. Some people say that was a very bad thing, and was a tipping point in the wrong direction. But it looks like some folks are trying to white-wash that history. In the Chronicle article. It is said that Main Street Augusta, the group responsible for First Friday, just "fizzled" out. Brad Owens, who was a downtown bar owner and very active in various downtown groups, says that is flat out incorrect.
The most interesting part of The Chronicle article came underneath in the comments section. Brad Owens posted a very informative comment (which surprisingly is still up on The Chronicle website). Brad gives us a great timeline of what actually happened regarding Main Street Augusta and The Downtown Alliance and how the DDA seized control. I have pasted his comment below: