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Elements of Urbanism: Augusta

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

Published March 22, 2012 in Learning From      24 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

feature

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



Quote
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.
http://www.pps.org/great_public_spaces/one?public_place_id=934







Artists' Row



Quote
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.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arts_and_culture_in_Augusta,_Georgia#Artists.27_Row





















Augusta Riverwalk



Quote
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.
http://www.augustariverwalk.com/












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.







Quote
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
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_District_(Augusta,_Georgia)








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







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24 Comments

vicupstate

March 22, 2012, 05:17:17 AM
Augusta is like Jax in that it has tremendous potential, and some great old buildings that (for the most part) are under-utilized.

Augusta should concentrate on Broad Street as it could an amazing showplace, if done correctly.  I would do everything possible to fill the vacant buildings, while going overboard to beautify the public realm. It would take time and money but it could be SO beautiful and unique that it would be on par with anything in New Orleans (sort of like a cross between Canal Street, Bourbon Street and Garden District) or Savannah, Charleston or anywhere else for that matter. 

The city is trying hard, but it is a smaller city and often doesn't get the details right.  Two examples would be the pink condo building (tallest building in the city) and the Darth Vader penthouse on the Lamar building.  They both stand out in a negative way.

Also, like Jax, Augusta's efforts are spread over a pretty vast area, which dilutes the progress. 

I have visited the city over a 10+ year period and seen some real progress, but there is still a lot to do.

dougskiles

March 22, 2012, 06:27:36 AM
Augusta is a nice place.  I did a triathlon there 3 years ago - swam in the river (that part wasn't so nice), most of the bike course was across the river in South Carolina, and the run was multiple laps up and down Broad Street and the historic residential district.  What impressed me most was the hospitality.  The locals really went out of their way to support the event.  It was fun.

thelakelander

March 22, 2012, 06:30:29 AM
Yes, downtown Augusta strikes me as a place with a ton of potential.  Like Jax, they've demolished a lot of their original building fabric.  However, it appears some sort of effort was made to limit demolitions on Broad Street.  Btw, in recent years, they've been considering a streetcar system that would connect downtown to the medical district.



http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2009/04/22/augusta-readies-streetcar-proposal/

Gravity

March 22, 2012, 10:45:31 AM
How romantic.

In reality this place, especially downtown is an abandoned dump.
Sure, there are pockets of activity but as walk-able as this area is, everyone still drives. Even down the road to get lunch

You left out the part about the signal-less railroad crossings. Anytime the train comes thru they have to lay on the horn. Makes business in the buildings impossible to conduct.

Didnt take much of a suburb to get people to leave the area too. The area is still prone to flooding and despite the small population does have a homeless situation similar to jax.

There are a few cool modernly renovated apartments downtown, and very affordable. If you can find a job.

ben says

March 22, 2012, 10:52:56 AM
How romantic.

In reality this place, especially downtown is an abandoned dump.
Sure, there are pockets of activity but as walk-able as this area is, everyone still drives. Even down the road to get lunch

You left out the part about the signal-less railroad crossings. Anytime the train comes thru they have to lay on the horn. Makes business in the buildings impossible to conduct.

Didnt take much of a suburb to get people to leave the area too. The area is still prone to flooding and despite the small population does have a homeless situation similar to jax.

There are a few cool modernly renovated apartments downtown, and very affordable. If you can find a job.

I've never been, so I can't really comment. All I can add is: the pictures look great, looks like a cute, small town. That being said, out of the four people I know who've been there more than once, all four say the same thing: it's a dump.

thelakelander

March 22, 2012, 11:17:24 AM
Are they referring specifically to downtown Augusta or the entire city as a whole?  It's not Winter Park or Greenville but its no Flint or Youngstown either.

vicupstate

March 22, 2012, 11:48:04 AM
Every Downtown that sparkles today, was a dump within the  last 20 years or so.   The 'bones' of the urban fabric are still there in Augusta.  Sure it would happen faster if the city were larger, but towns a fraction of it's size have already pulled it off.   

Wacca Pilatka

March 22, 2012, 12:38:01 PM
Augusta's an interesting place from a photographic perspective.  You captured it very well, and much better than I could, as usual.

simms3

March 22, 2012, 09:38:29 PM
I, too, have heard that Augusta is a dump.  I drove through so long ago I barely remember, but it's not known for much outside the Masters and now the only nuclear expansion in the country in decades.

Still, these pictures do look nice - it looks like it has really good bones.  It's not a growing city.  If you were raised in Augusta, you most likely left to live in Atlanta as soon as you were 18, or another big city in another state.

Georgia does have a lot of gems, though.  Decatur, Athens and Columbus are all pretty impressive cities.  Augusta doesn't look non-impressive, but I don't think it has any nice areas, and the people there are pretty slow-paced and content with the way things are, and there is nothing progressive about the place.

Ocklawaha

March 22, 2012, 11:04:02 PM

Augusta has a Streetcar plan in place...

BUT

Augusta razed the magnificent old Union Station... We didn't, THANK GOD!

So who's ahead?

thelakelander

March 22, 2012, 11:28:36 PM
Georgia does have a lot of gems, though.  Decatur, Athens and Columbus are all pretty impressive cities.  Augusta doesn't look non-impressive, but I don't think it has any nice areas, and the people there are pretty slow-paced and content with the way things are, and there is nothing progressive about the place.

I'll be in Atlanta this weekend.  Decatur is one of my scheduled photo stops.

lewyn

March 26, 2012, 04:11:53 PM
Decatur isn't a city in the same way Athens and Columbus are- its an inner ring streetcar suburb, kind of like Avondale or San Marco only an independent municipality and a bit further out (6 miles as opposed to 1 or 2).

ben says

March 26, 2012, 04:15:13 PM
Decatur isn't a city in the same way Athens and Columbus are- its an inner ring streetcar suburb, kind of like Avondale or San Marco only an independent municipality and a bit further out (6 miles as opposed to 1 or 2).

Is that the same for DeKalb?

Tacachale

March 26, 2012, 04:38:24 PM
Decatur isn't a city in the same way Athens and Columbus are- its an inner ring streetcar suburb, kind of like Avondale or San Marco only an independent municipality and a bit further out (6 miles as opposed to 1 or 2).

Is that the same for DeKalb?
Decatur is in DeKalb County.

I have good friends who are currently in Augusta for work. We visited them up there a while back. I didn't think it was so bad at all. While it they do sometimes have the appearance of revitalization projects that were abandonded halfway through, downtown and the historic neighborhoods have some pretty impressive architecture. There is an entire former Confederate powderworks facility that we just stumbled upon randomly, one of my favorite memories ever.

Downtown in particular has some pretty cool venues that seem to be fairly well supported; during our visit we had some specialty enchiladas and beers, checked out a ceramicist's studio, and caught a hockey game. The wider area has some other interesting features, such as the pleasant little burgh of Aiken, South Carolina.

thelakelander

March 26, 2012, 05:11:24 PM
Decatur (founded in 1822) is a city that has been long gobbled up by the growth of Atlanta.  it would be similar to Murray Hill, which was once a separate city five or six miles outside of downtown Jacksonville.  It's the county seat of DeKalb County.

I spent a few hours there yesterday.  It's a nice community with a decent downtown atmopshere and direct access with the rest of Atlanta via MARTA.

thelakelander

March 26, 2012, 05:15:22 PM
I have good friends who are currently in Augusta for work. We visited them up there a while back. I didn't think it was so bad at all. While it they do sometimes have the appearance of revitalization projects that were abandonded halfway through, downtown and the historic neighborhoods have some pretty impressive architecture. There is an entire former Confederate powderworks facility that we just stumbled upon randomly, one of my favorite memories ever.

I'm an industrial architecture buff.  Here are a few pics of the old Confederate powderworks site.





vicupstate

March 26, 2012, 06:13:57 PM
Quote
The wider area has some other interesting features, such as the pleasant little burgh of Aiken, South Carolina.

Aiken is very nice.  Their DT is completely revitilized and is very attractive. Definitely worth the short trip from Augusta.

Noone

March 26, 2012, 10:55:07 PM
Visited Augusta a number of years ago. A family thing.  What we did when we were there was take a boat ride on the canal. The boats were non motorized and operated off batteries. That part of the canal was restricted. Kayaks were allowed. Trolling motors were OK.

I believe we went by the old Confederate powderworks site in the boat. The canal is behind the building. It was fun.

Traveller

March 27, 2012, 08:41:17 AM
Aiken's #1 advantage is a significant population of uber-wealthy horse people.  They allow a town with 20,000 people to have some of the dining, shopping, and entertainment options of a city several times its size.  The downside is that they drive up costs (particularly housing) for the rest of the area's residents, who don't have a ton of employment options other than the Savannah River Site and an Owens Corning plant.

Augusta's downtown has definitely seen better (and worse) days.  I'd hate to think what the city would look like without the medical college.  The Riverwalk opening 20+ years ago was huge.  Before that, there was almost no reason to go downtown save for the occasional concert or court appearance.  The growth in neighboring Columbia County has been remarkable, similar to northern St. Johns County, FL or Shelby County, AL.

Of course, Augusta will once again be the center of the sporting world in 8 days, especially since Tiger is back.  8)

krazeeboi

March 29, 2012, 01:40:37 PM
This tour of Augusta was much better and much more representative of the urban core than the very first one that was done here on MJ.

As others have said, the urban core has great bones and there's a ton of potential. There are quite a bit of historic structures downtown given its age, especially churches. I happen to like the quirky and somewhat eclectic nature of Broad Street and surrounding areas; in that sense, it gives you the flavor of districts like Little Five Points in Atlanta, San Marco in Jacksonville, NoDa in Charlotte, Five Points in Columbia, etc. within the urban core itself. Because Augusta isn't really a business center, it doesn't have a main street dominated by office uses which is why it has retained a good bit of its historic urban stock (and a lot of what was lost wasn't just via demolition, but due to the great fire of the early 20th century). There have been some new civic buildings erected recently as well, including the new library:



and new county judicial center:



One of the biggest barriers to overall downtown cohesion that exists currently is the levee that separate the Riverwalk from the rest of downtown. That's why you've got those high walls that serve as entrances to the Riverwalk in certain sections:



As far as the "dump" comment goes, Augusta does have its fair share of blight in areas close to the urban core, but some of that is getting cleaned up via the revitalization of the historically African American  Laney Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods.

I did a photo tour of downtown last year if anyone wants to check it out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30101980@N06/sets/72157627076827630/

thelakelander

March 29, 2012, 02:24:15 PM
^Great photos.  I really enjoyed them.  If you have photos of other cities you've taken, I'd like to feature them in future articles.

krazeeboi

March 30, 2012, 02:30:47 AM
Thanks man. So far, I've got shots of Columbia, Jacksonville, DC, and Philly. Rome, GA for a smaller city.

Noone

March 30, 2012, 05:11:25 AM
Nice pics. krazeeboi how would you like to kayak in Downtown Jax? I've got a two seater and you can sit in the front and if we catch the tides right we can go under the TU on McCoys. Under the Hyatt Parking lot and the Plaza at Berkman. I don't think anyone has posted pics of that yet and you can catch Khans yacht. We can continue on past Shipyards/Landmar and the pier. You can capture pics from the water of the super dredge of Hogans Creek. And we can finish or even start at the Jacksonville Marina and put the kayak in at the brand new no fishing signs that were never before Waterways.

I was looking at your pics and maybe I missed it but do they still have that attraction in Augusta where you can ride the boat in the canal? 

krazeeboi

April 03, 2012, 07:57:19 PM
I think you can still do boat tours of the Augusta Canal, but I'm not completely sure.
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