Future of Downtown Augusta looks bright for major stakeholders

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Recent social media uproar about the number of abandoned buildings in downtown Augusta have some questioning the area’s future.

So, we traveled up and down Broad Street from 15th Street to Olde Town and we found abandoned buildings like the old Woolworth’s building, JC Penney and several others.

We caught up with District 1 Commissioner Elect Jordan Johnson to talk about his plans for the future of downtown Augusta.

“It’s not the downtown of yesterday. But it’s definitely not the downtown that we envision it to be in the next few years,” Johnson explained. “We have to get the ball rolling on seeing how we can make downtown an attraction.”

He’s not sworn into office until January, but District 1 Commissioner Elect Jordan Johnson said it’s time to revitalize downtown, support current business owners and market an area he calls the heartbeat of Augusta for people to patronize it.

“The Gallery. This is my first time seeing this,” he said of one Broad Street business. “Look at the vibe of it. It looks like something you would see in midtown Atlanta. This is nice.”

While new places are up, there are many shuttered ones. We counted more than 60 buildings closed. Some are For Sale with names of a handful of real estate companies, such as Sherman and Hemstreet and Jordan Trotter and others are just boarded up. We’ve been talking with Blanchard and Calhoun’s Davis Beman for years about the Lamar and Marion buildings and many other spaces that take up thousands of square feet.

“The only way to get those deals done and make sense of them are through a financial stack that might be made up of multiple investors, investing in an opportunity zone, taking federal and state tax credit allocations,” said Beman with Beman Group & Blanchard and Calhoun’s commercial properties.

Those tax credits Beman said would help allow an owner to build out one of the larger buildings to become residential for example and get the funding to do it.

As for smaller places untouched, hope is not lost there either. One man who is former military is already working on a plan on 9th and Broad.

“It’s going to be a wine bar with small plates,” said new downtown August business owner Mark Guillory.

The new spot will be called Taste Wine Room and will offer wines you do not often see early next year. Guillory told us he chose to open up downtown because it has no other option than to grow.

“Some of these buildings, I think they’ve been around, this one was 1910-1920,” Guillory said of his place currently under construction. “Inside was a lot of character. Not like some of these prefab restaurants you see around here.”

For Johnson, it’s all about selling downtown.

“The administrator certainly has a role in doing that. Downtown businesses have a role in doing that. Private real estate agents, private real estate firms have a role in doing that, the commissioner should be a cheerleader for downtown Augusta and the Downtown Development Authority should also be doing that.”

We reached out to DDA Executive Director Margaret Woodard about her thoughts on the future of downtown Augusta. She said:

“Downtown Augusta business owners continue to adapt and innovate with new business models to keep their doors open and operating. Curbside delivery and to go remain strong and are here to stay in the near future. Outdoor dining has expanded for more capacity seating. Even with the cancellation of many downtown events and the office market working virtually from home, we are seeing a gradual upward trend of foot traffic in the downtown corridor on a weekly basis by tracking customer journey with cell phone technology. While some businesses are shuttered temporarily, they do plan to reopen and currently two new businesses are under construction and planning to open in the Fall.   While sales are down with new health guidelines in place, we are working to retain businesses and are hopeful that downtown Augusta will survive this pandemic with minimal business closures.”

Executive Director Margaret Woodard

Johnson has another plan, to reactivate the Downtown Advisory Panel and meet the needs of current business owners by keeping downtown clean. He also wants to work with Code Enforcement and the Marshal’s Office on citations.

“Buildings having broken glass, windows being boarded up and vandalized. Some buildings on Broad have holes in the top of the building. I would be interested in looking to see what enforcement looks like. If that enforcement means fines or whether it means just coming before the commission to have a conversation,” he added.

Johnson will not be sworn in until January, so these are his goals, for now. We will continue to keep track of businesses downtown.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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