Campaign takes aim at improving life and tourism in Augusta

The Means Report

Today, we’re going to look at the future of Augusta and the surrounding area and look at ways that we can make it better. Today’s show focuses on All in Augusta, an undertaking with the goal of doing just that, so we’ll find out what All in Augusta is, we’ll look at the potential benefits to the city and most importantly, we’ll take a look at ways that you can be involved in it going forward, as their efforts get underway and the man who is the campaign chair of All in Augusta needs no introduction whatsoever, not only to you, but for this show in general, because he’s been a frequent guest, he’s Deke Copenhaver, two term and then some Mayor of Augusta, Georgia and now in the private consulting business with Copenhaver Consulting and in his role for us today, chair of the All in Augusta campaign.

Brad Means: Welcome back.

Deke Copenhaver: Brad, thanks for having me, it feels like Old Home Week.

Brad Means: It does, it does and it’s good to see you back at Channel 6 and exciting to be talking about All in Augusta.

Deke Copenhaver: Absolutely.

Brad Means: Is it fair to say that it is just, it is a campaign to make our area better?

Deke Copenhaver: That is the goal of it.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Deke Copenhaver: You know, I’m working with the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau, who they focus on bringing in tourists, putting heads in beds,

Brad Means: Hm-mm.

Deke Copenhaver: increasing hotel, motel tax revenues. So the whole plan is to make the city more attractive, not to just tourists, but to residents alike.

Brad Means: Alright, so how does this differ from efforts, that are already underway to make our town better? Does it supplement those, is it independent of those?

Deke Copenhaver: It supplements it. So they are a lot of other organizations, that have really fed into this plan. We’re in the process of getting resolutions of support from, you know, the Downtown Development Authority, the Greater Augusta Arts Council, the Chamber, so we want everybody working on one page together, but it’s not supplanting efforts that are ongoing, it really is supplementing them.

Brad Means: Are we looking at five years here, until we see results, or we’ll see things within that time?

Deke Copenhaver: No, we’ll see things start this year. So the three major focuses of the campaign are to tell Augusta’s story, both internally and externally and it’s interesting to me, when people say, well, you know, internally, why do we need to do that? A big focus, the second focus is enhancing Downtown, but there’s still people out there, that don’t think that Downtown is safe,

Brad Means: Right.

Deke Copenhaver: so a PR campaign to promote Downtown, to ensure people that it’s safe, it’s someplace that is there for everybody. So telling Augusta’s story both internally and externally, enhancing Downtown, there’s money in there for sculpture gardens, working in partnership with the Arts Council on that, there’s money in there to help supplement the efforts of Parks and Rec and the Central Savannah River and Land Trust to connect the trails into Downtown. So the third part is developing new attractions and one of the things I’m really excited about is there’s $450,000 in seed money to do an International Soul Festival. The CBB is working with the city, that should come out of the box actually 2019. So a lot of these things you’ll start seeing within the next couple years.

Brad Means: So when you talk about telling the story internally,

Deke Copenhaver: Hm-mm.

Brad Means: okay, I get it, getting more people to be aware of what we have here

Deke Copenhaver: Yeah.

Brad Means: and not being afraid of it.

Deke Copenhaver: Exactly.

Brad Means: And then when you talk about externally, does that mean going to other towns and seeing ads for Augusta?

Deke Copenhaver: Yeah, it’s broadcasting that Augusta is a great place, not just to visit, but to live, work and play as well.

Brad Means: Right, so go back to the Downtown enhancements, in particular, the Soul Festival, nearly half a million in seed money for it, where’d y’all get the money?

Deke Copenhaver: Well, that’s what we’re raising the money for right now and so the exciting thing to me about that is we’ve had a lot of James Brown centered events in the past, but the problem that I think we’ve run into is they’ve not had professional management and I tell everybody that, you know, everything we do as a community now, we should focus on it being world class. So I think the 450,000 gets us that professional management, that we haven’t had before.

Brad Means: Deke, do you have, and it feels weird to call you Deke, I just had to hesitate, because I wanna just say Mayor Copenhaver, because, you know, as a sign of respect as well, but I mean, because I called you that for a decade. But when it comes to a Soul Festival and when it comes to the buzz, that Augusta has because of James Brown,

Deke Copenhaver: Hm-mm.

Brad Means: not only as Mayor, but now in your role with All in Augusta, how strong is that vibe, is that buzz outside of Augusta? I know he’s gone, God rest him, are people still very much aware of Mr. Brown?

Deke Copenhaver: It’s huge and I’ll give you a great example, Brad, I’m working on a book, story to be, come later on that.

Brad Means: Yes, yes, yes.

Deke Copenhaver: But I was meeting with my publishing house down in Charleston three or four months ago, and my Uber driver said, “well, where are you from?” I said, I’m from Augusta, he goes “James Brown!”

Brad Means: Instantly.

Deke Copenhaver: Instantly.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Deke Copenhaver: I mean, and so for, you know, obviously being the home of the Masters is tremendously awesome,

Brad Means: Hm-mm.

Deke Copenhaver: but there’s so many music fans out there, that might not be golf fans, but they still know us for being the home of James Brown and Jessie Norman.

Brad Means: And Jessie Norman, yes, what does this look like? Does it look like a bunch of bands over a weekend at the Common and if so, big names, what are you picturing?

Deke Copenhaver: That’s what I’m picturing, I would look forward to talking with the professionals about that, but I think it would be good to do something in the spring, you know, we’ve got Arts in the Heart in the fall, we’ve got Westobou in the fall to sort of counterbalance that, that’s what the discussions are at this point.

Brad Means: How helpful are all of the new hotels going to be, when you accommodate an event like that?

Deke Copenhaver: They’re gonna be huge

Brad Means: Yeah.

Deke Copenhaver: and part of the plan calls for the CBB promoting the extension of the Commons, the city has money and the current supplies to do that. I know there have been a lot of discussions around that, but when you consider that, you know, to extend the Commons to the river front, how you can expand Arts in the Heart or how you could have a Soul Music Festival like this, it’s just the possibilities are limitless.

Brad Means: Talk about the level of interest you’ve picked up on so far from the private and public sector, as far as raising that money.

Deke Copenhaver: Yeah.

Brad Means: Or are people gonna donate?

Deke Copenhaver: Yeah, we’re close to $1.2 million

Brad Means: Already?

Deke Copenhaver: in pledges.

Brad Means: Wow.

Deke Copenhaver: We’ve been in the silent portion of the campaign, but to me, Brad, there’s so much energy and enthusiasm out there at the grassroots level, you know, we’re looking to raise $6 million, but I don’t see a community-wide campaign to coalesce all that energy and enthusiasm around. So this is something that, you know, if you can give $100 or 100,000, we want everybody to be all in on this campaign. I lived in Atlanta, when the Braves went from worst to first, and I remember what it felt like for an entire city to be caught up in that effort, that’s what I’m shooting for here.

Brad Means: Have you seen it happen in other towns?

Deke Copenhaver: I have seen it happen in other towns and it’s interesting, the Commission just made the trip to Columbus several months ago and so I’ve met with commissioners, and we’ve started discussing the potential of public-private partnership, but it was in Columbus, where the private sector took the lead on shaping the future of the city and then partnered with the government. So that’s one model, that I think we can use, that’s what I think we need to see here.

Brad Means: When we come back, we’re gonna talk about the transformation, that Mr. Copenhaver has outlined, when we can start to actually see things happening, I believe, in some ways we already are, and really, what the end result will look like. Will we be Columbus or Greenville or better, when The Means Report continues.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report, we appreciate you sticking with us as we cover the All in Augusta campaign, an effort that’s gonna take the entire community to transform this area, make it more appealing to local folks and certainly to visitors. Deke Copenhaver is the chair of it all and he’s joining us now, former two term Mayor of Augusta and I can’t think of a better person to take the leadership role into transforming our town. So let’s talk about how soon we might see changes, start at a very basic level.

Deke Copenhaver: Clean up.

Brad Means: What are you looking for as far as making Augusta cleaner and more attractive?

Deke Copenhaver: You know, part of this plan is for the Convention and Visitors Bureau to work with other organizations to put back in place our Business Improvement District, which we had in place for five years.

Brad Means: Yeah, I remember that.

Deke Copenhaver: I don’t know if you remember, but there were 52% of the total property owners within the district approve re-upping the bid for another five year period, but at that point, the Commission turned it down. I think that as we’re bringing in more visitors and residents, you know, it’s important to clean up Downtown, so I think the bid needs to go back in place and that’s part of this plan.

Brad Means: Are we judged by our Downtown?

Deke Copenhaver: We are, every place is judged by their urban core, like it or not, you know, and I think we’ve got a great Downtown, when you think about everything that’s coming in down there, when the second building of the Cyber Center gets populated, when the Hyatt House opens in December, I believe, TaxSlayer moves in in December, you’re gonna have thousands more people in just that general area of Downtown on a daily basis early next year.

Brad Means: Okay, so the urban core is the show place for any town.

Deke Copenhaver: Yes.

Brad Means: Why is that? I guess what I’m trying to ask you is if you’re traveling to a town,

Deke Copenhaver: Hm-mm.

Brad Means: is it more likely than not, that you’re going to go to the Downtown area at some point in your trip?

Deke Copenhaver: Yes, yes, that is absolutely the case. I was just talking to Bryan Evans at the Exchange Club, who just got back from San Antonio,

Brad Means: Yep.

Deke Copenhaver: and was talking about their Riverwalk in San Antonio and we can do so much more like that here. So yes, every city is generally to visitors, that’s the impression that they have and I want Evan’s town center to be extremely successful, but for Downtown Augusta, you just can’t recreate a sense of place and history.

Brad Means: What about golf cars Downtown? Another Commission talked about it, where are we on that?

Deke Copenhaver: We are looking at starting those golf cart tours from the Convention and Visitors Bureau next year, so that’s something that people can see coming out of the box hopefully as soon as early next year.

Brad Means: Is this Augusta only, or does North Augusta tie in?

Deke Copenhaver: At this point, it’s primarily focused on Augusta and as you said, it’s a five-year plan, I’m looking to raise $6 million, but in some of the meetings we’ve had, people have said, well, if we’re successful in five years, can we just re-up and look at spreading it to the surrounding communities as well? That is what I would love to see.

Brad Means: This may be outside the scope of what y’all are doing, feel free to tell me if it is, but will you try to get businesses to move Downtown? Not just businesses here in town, like TaxSlayer did,

Deke Copenhaver: Yeah.

Brad Means: but from outside the area?

Deke Copenhaver: Absolutely

Brad Means: Yeah?

Deke Copenhaver: I did that in my role, when I came in and ran the Development Authority on an interim basis. I know that Cal Ray is focused on that with the Development Authority, yes, and that’s the thing to me, we are so primed, so all of our Downtown is in a federally designated Opportunity Zone, which is a new program that the federal government did, but it should spur tremendous growth Downtown, so yes, definitely.

Brad Means: I also know that you are working on or you want to create districts within Downtown?

Deke Copenhaver: Hm-mm.

Brad Means: Is that like Artists’ Row and similar districts, what are districts?

Deke Copenhaver: Similar districts, so we’ve got the Miller and the Imperial, that’s obviously an entertainment and theater district, so it lends itself, Downtown lends itself to that, we’ve obviously got the medical district around the universities, so yes, we are focused on that as well.

Brad Means: I know a lot of people, who try to attend a lot of events in town, say that they find themselves being spread too thin,

Deke Copenhaver: Yeah.

Brad Means: because a lot of events overlap, or conflict and so you are talking about a community-wide events calendar, where are we as far as that stands and are all the agencies that plan all these fun events buying into that?

Deke Copenhaver: Yes, they absolutely are and at the new offices of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which I would invite everybody to come down to and tour on Broad Street right next to The Southern Salad, which is great, there’s a doorway between the two.

Brad Means: Yep.

Deke Copenhaver: But there will be ongoing screens showing community-wide events, so yes and the new Visitors Center, no offense to anybody’s grandmother, but it’s very interactive, it’s not your grandmother’s Visitors’ Center, where somebody just comes in and takes a brochure and leaves.

Brad Means: There is a hi-tech feel to Downtown, as you predicted that there would be, when you were Mayor, you are encouraging young leaders to step forward with the All in Augusta campaign?

Deke Copenhaver: Absolutely.

Brad Means: I would imagine that would be easy, that these young folks, I know ’em, I’ve seen ’em, would wanna step up, is that happening?

Deke Copenhaver: It definitely is, it definitely is and that’s to me, you know, we need that energy of the younger generation, because effectively they’ll benefit more from this plan in the long run, than you or I will, but that’s cool to me and I will tell you, so GeorgiaForward, which I’m on the board of, had the Young Gamechangers program here, I think it was 2016, but this plan, they were here for six months, it was 55 of the best and brightest minds from around the state, a third from here, a third from Atlanta and a third from the rest of the state, they were here for six months and they made recommendations at the end of the term as to how we can make Augusta more attractive to millennials, that’s included in this plan, so this is the first plan I’m aware of, that actually got the input of the younger generation.

Brad Means: What are the benefits to people who invest, who help you get to that six million, how do they reap the benefits? They just have a nicer town?

Deke Copenhaver: The rising tide lifts everybody, you know, Downtown merchants and restaurants, the more people you bring Downtown for events, the more they benefit, but just once again, it’s not an us and them in this community, we’re all in it together and so once again, the name of the plan is All in Augusta.

Brad Means: I hate to ask you this question, because it’s too easy and I think it’s been asked too many times, but I’ll do it, are we going to be the next Greenville, Chattanooga, Columbus?

Deke Copenhaver: We’re gonna be better and Brad, you know how competitive I am,

Brad Means: Yeah.

Deke Copenhaver: and I really get tired of hearing people say, I wanna be more like this city or that city, because we’ve got more resources than any of those cities have, you know they’re great cities and I love ’em, but I just wanna be absolutely Augusta and be the best city that we can be, that other people come to learn from.

Brad Means: What do you think about everything that’s going on, this kind of big picture, because I do think back of all the times you’ve been on The Means Report from the infancy of your run as Mayor, till now, a ton has already happened.

Deke Copenhaver: It really has and it’s fun to watch and to still be a part of it. It’s interesting, somebody asked me after I got out of office, “Well, what are you gonna do, “now that you’ve retired?” And I’m like, do I look old enough to retire? There’s still a lot of work to do and I will say that in other cities, you know, transformative change for the better has been driven by the private sector, so I wanna work in partnership with the government, I respect what they do and the role that their job is, but really it’s the private sector, that needs to set the vision and that’s what we’re doing through this plan.

Brad Means: When you say set the vision, you mean lay out plans and pay for them?

Deke Copenhaver: Well, hopefully it’ll be a public-private partnership,

Brad Means: Yeah.

Deke Copenhaver: because here again, the business community and local government should have a strong, working relationship, once again like they do in Columbus and that’s really what I see as a great opportunity here, to have the business community working at a heightened level with local government.

Brad Means: Is there money that we just don’t know about in the public sector, whether it’s in the state, federal, local, because I think about things like, okay, we’re barely gonna at the last minute approve the Sheriff’s budget,

Deke Copenhaver: Hm-mm.

Brad Means: or we’re going to have to hold off on new hires, I hear these things coming from the city and I think to myself, there’s no money left for All in Augusta, does it just come from places that don’t get that much publicity?

Deke Copenhaver: Well, it’s a complex issue, but yes, there are often funds available and sometimes they can be used for one thing, potentially bricks and mortar, SPLOST is a great example,

Brad Means: Yeah.

Deke Copenhaver: Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, that’s bricks and mortar, that can’t be used to pay salaries, so it’s public finances not as simple as most people would like it to be, but yes, there are potential funding opportunities.

Brad Means: Outgoing Governor, Nathan Deal was certainly a friend

Deke Copenhaver: Oh, my gosh.

Brad Means: to Augusta, Georgia, you look Downtown for proof of that. Do you have the same feeling for Governor Elect, Brian Kemp?

Deke Copenhaver: I know Brian, I think he’s gonna do a great job. Obviously we were just at the Exchange Club and Ryan Mahoney, who was his communications director said that we’ve got a friend in the Governor’s Office with Governor Elect Kemp, I believe that, you know, I’ve known him for a number of years now and Augusta is on his radar, but I will tell you, we owe Governor Deal a debt of gratitude, that can never be repaid.

Brad Means: We sure do, he did a lot for our town and I hope the folks in Atlanta remember us, it sounds like they will. Mayor Deke Copenhaver, thank you for your service to our town and best of luck with All in Augusta.

Deke Copenhaver: Thanks, Brad, always a pleasure being with you, man.

Brad Means: It’s great to have you back.

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The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.