Elements of Urbanism: Augusta

March 22, 2012 24 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville visits the urban core of Georgia's second largest metropolitan area: Augusta.

Tale of the Tape:

Augusta Pop. 2010: 195,844 (City); 556,877 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1735)

Jacksonville Pop. 2010: 821,784 (City); 1,345,596 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Augusta (71,508)

Metropolitan Area Growth Rate (2000-2010)

Augusta: +11.45%
Jacksonville: +19.85%

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2010

Augusta: +662
Jacksonville: +86,281

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Augusta: Trade, Exhibition, and Event "TEE" Center (Summer 2012)  - 38,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Attached to Convention Center:

Augusta: Augusta Marriott (372 rooms)
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Augusta: River Place Condominiums - 312 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies:

Augusta: There are no Fortune 500 companies located in Augusta
Jacksonville: CSX (230), Winn-Dixie Stores (324), Fidelity National Financial (398), Fidelity National Information Services (426)

Urban infill obstacles:

Augusta: Broad Street, the riverwalk, and the Medical District are separated by a large network of surface parking lots.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Augusta: Artist Row on Broad Street
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

An underutilized urban waterfront.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Augusta: 89 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 78 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

About Augusta

Augusta was founded in 1735, by James Oglethorpe (founder of Savannah two years earlier), to provide a first line of defense against the Spanish and French. Upon the completion of the Augusta Canal in 1847, the city quickly became a leader in the production of textiles, gunpowder and paper. Unlike most southern cities, the community became very prosperous after the Civil War by growing into one of the largest inland cotton markets in the world.

Beginning in the late 1970s, businesses started leaving downtown Augusta for suburban shopping malls. That started a trend of urban abandonment and decay. To counter this trend, city politicians and business leaders promoted revitalizing Augusta's hidden riverfront (obscured by a levee) into a beautiful Riverwalk with parks, an amphitheater, hotels, museums, and art galleries. The first segment of The Riverwalk was opened in the late 1980s and later expanded in the early 1990s. However, the renaissance of the riverfront did not appear to be spilling over into Augusta's main street, Broad Street, as more businesses were leaving and more storefronts boarded up.

In 1995, members of the art community and downtown boosters started a monthly event called First Friday. It was a night festival whose aim was to bring crowds back to downtown. It featured local bands, street performers, and art galleries opened late. Since 1995, more businesses have started to return to downtown, including many new restaurants and bars. A block of upper Broad Street has been named Artists Row and is home to several locally owned art galleries.

In 1996, the City and Richmond County consolidated to form one government – Augusta-Richmond County.

Built in 1845 as a source of power, water, and transportation, the Augusta Canal is the only intact industrial canal in the South still in use today.  During the Civil War it was the site of the Confederate State of America Powderworks complex.

Broad Street

Broad Street is the principal east-west street in downtown Augusta.  It's also internationally known as one of the widest city streets in the world.

The Broad Street Mall was completed by I.M. Pei in 1977.  Due to the width of the street, it became a difficult proposition for pedestrians trying to cross during peak traffic hours.  The solution to this problem resulted in the removal of a section of the street's center and converting it into a linear urban park space.

The 18-story Lamar Building was completed in 1918.  A penthouse level was added in 1976, designed by I.M. Pei.  In July 2011, the architectural critic James Howard Kunstler labeled it his "Eyesore of the Month", claiming the addition is reminiscent of a Darth Vader helmet.

The Imperial Theatre is an 853-seat theater that was completed in February 1918.  It is named after the Imperial Theatre in NYC.

The Miller Theater was designed by Jacksonville architect Roy A. Benjamin in 1940.

The former flagship J.B. White Department Store building has been renovated to feature 51 upper level lofts and street level retail and office space.  J.B. White was a department store chain founded in Augusta in 1874.  The chain was acquired by Merchantile Stores in 1998 and its locations were became Dillard's.

The Augusta Commons

What makes this place special is not what it is, it's what it could be. Augusta Tomorrow, a downtown visionary firm, developed this square as well as the Common's neighbor Riverwalk Augusta. When Augusta was drawn out by Gen James Oglethorpe, he included a 300 acre commons area that could be used by the whole community for farming, livestock grazing, etc. Well, people's needs have changed since then, and Augusta Tomorrow partnered with the City of Augusta and knocked down a block of vacant buildings in the struggling downtown. The area, at the moment, is a grassy lawn stretching from Broad Street (the main street) to Reynolds.

The lawn acts as a connection between the new Riverwalk and the central business district. It features a statue of Gen James Oglethorpe in the center, a wall fountain with the city seal, and a bronze map of Oglethorpe's vision of Augusta. It has tables with built in chess and checkers tables. Decorative benches and light posts follow the two wide sidewalks that border the lawn. It also has four "corners." Four brick planters that line the corner stand for Moral Freedom, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, and Political Freedom. The speech corner even features a soap box.

Plans for the square call for it to expand both ways: south of Broad Street and North to Riverwalk. A new building housing the Morris Museum of Art would anchor the northern common, while a college connected with Augusta State University as well as the new Richmond County Board of Education would anchor the south end. The Augusta Commons are one of the best things that have ever happened to Augusta, the town just needs to finish what it started.

Artists' Row

Artists' Row is a small district located in downtown along Broad Street. Artists' Row is an important landmark in downtown Augusta because it is one of the first beginning revitalization efforts throughout downtown. It is named for the local art galleries, which are located along the 700-1200 blocks. The business fronts stay open for the arts council's First Friday. Every First Friday of the month downtown galleries, dinners, and boutiques stay open until 10 pm for the First Friday celebration. First Friday began in 1995 and continues today.

Augusta Riverwalk

The Augusta Riverwalk is one of Augusta's finest attractions located directly on the beautiful Savannah River. Take a stroll down the shaded sidewalks of the riverwalk that line the Savannah River and enjoy what downtown Augusta has to offer.

The Augusta Riverwalk is located in downtown Augusta which has a rich history of being a thriving industrial area. The creation of the Augusta canal allowed large textile mills to be constructed in downtown Augusta.  Many of the old mills still stand. The Augusta Riverwalk history is full of significant floods that frequently threatened downtown Augusta.  Today,  Augusta is protected from floods by a large dam 10 miles upstream.

Many events are held each year at the Augusta Riverwalk. Each year there is a large St. Patrick's Day Celebration, movies shown at the common area, fireworks display on the 4th of July and many more events.  Also, the Tour De Georgia, a 650 mile professional cycling event ends in downtown Augusta each year.  Check the Augusta Riverwalk events page to see upcoming events.  

The cool breeze from the Savannah River provides the perfect place for a picnic or go for a stroll under the shade trees.  Next time you are in Augusta, be sure to check out the Augusta Riverwalk.

At the end of the 1880's, Augusta was known as the heart of Georgia's cotton trade.  The Cotton Exchange Building (constructed in 1886) was where cotton farmers brought their bales of cotton to be weighed and sold.  Today, this historic block of Downtown Augusta has been preserved and now is the home to several locally owned restaurants housed in buildings that were constructed over 100 years ago for the cotton trade.

As a part of Augusta's new convention center, a historic warehouse is being incorporated into it.

The new convention center currently under construction.

A rendering of what the new convention center will resemble when completed.

Medical District

The Medical District is a special-use zoning district comprised of many medical facilities and private medical companies roughly one mile west of downtown Augusta.  The Medical District employs over 25,000 people and has an economic impact of over $1.8 billion.

Institutions within the Medical District

Georgia Health Sciences University / MCGHealth
- Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU)
- Medical College of Georgia (MCG)
- College of Dental Medicine
- College of Allied Health Sciences
- College of Nursing
- College of Graduate Studies

MCGHealth (affiliated with GHSU)
- MCGHealth Medical Center — 493 licensed beds
- MCGHealth Children's Medical Center — 149 licensed beds
- MCGHealth Ambulatory Care Center — has more than 80 outpatient clinics in one setting
- MCGHealth Specialized Center — a 13-county Level I trauma center
- MCGHealth Sports Center
- Medical College of Georgia Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics

University Hospital — 612 licensed beds
- University Heart and Vascular Institute

Georgia Radiation Therapy Center

Augusta Sickle Cell Center

Specialty Select Hospital — 34 licensed beds

Augusta Cancer Research Center

Norwood VA Medical Center — 155 licensed beds

Downtown Augusta can be seen in the background of this image taken from Augusta's Medical District.

Old Towne

Old Towne, or "Pinched Gut," is Augusta's in-town residential neighborhood with examples of most prevailing 19th century architectural styles.

Article by Ennis Davis