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City Centers Represent Heartbeat of Our Communities

March 12, 2019

Deke Copenhaver

Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
In cities throughout our state, our nation and the world, there’s a commonality which can never be ignored…a thriving city center truly represents the heartbeat of a community. Here in Augusta, we are beginning to see the fruits of many decades of our downtown revitalization efforts. Although the progress has come with fits and starts through the years, we’ve now reached a critical mass of redevelopment activity which I believe represents just the tip of the iceberg with regards to what’s to come.

Last year saw the grand opening of the Miller Theater in our downtown, representing a $23 million investment to restore one of Augusta’s most historic community assets. During 2018 the venue hosted 111 events with 175 musical acts taking the stage. All told, the Miller sold 86,000 tickets and brought 71,439 visitors through its doors in its first year in operation after being closed for 30 years. The facility and its iconic marquee now serve as a primary entertainment destination for both visitors and locals alike while generating significant revenues for our local economy.
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Another highlight for our urban core in 2018 was the opening of the Hull McKnight Building and the riverfront campus of the Georgia Cyber Center. The grand opening held last July celebrated the completion of the first phase of the center with an overall investment in the project of $100 million. In January of this year, former Governor Nathan Deal dedicated the second phase of the project with the opening of the Shaffer McCartney Building on the now appropriately named Nathan Deal Campus for Innovation. During his remarks Governor Deal stated that he hopes the building will be “a facility that will have long-term generational effects.”

As the momentum in our urban core continues to build just last month saw Taxslayer, a globally recognized technology company, complete the renovations on and take up residence in their new headquarters on historic Broad Street. The multi-million dollar project is one more shot in the arm for downtown Augusta as it brings along with it 100 employees which is helping to expand our local food and beverage industry to serve a constantly growing labor force in our city center. Having had the opportunity to tour the facility several weeks ago, I believe it’s a sterling example of how re-adaptive uses of our historic buildings can represent preserving our communities past while at the same time having an eye towards the future.
         
Later this month just in time for the Masters Golf Tournament we will see the opening of Augusta's first downtown hotel in decades through the completion of the new Hyatt House on Broad Street. With 100 rooms and a roof top bar, the facility offers breathtaking views of the Savannah River and sits just blocks away from the Miller Theater, the Georgia Cyber Center and Taxslayer's new headquarters. These three projects, coupled with significant private sector investment in residential space and new restaurants, will ultimately bring thousands more pedestrians to our urban core on a daily basis, providing what is needed here and in every city to create a thriving downtown: a critical mass of pedestrian activity.
         
Augusta's story of downtown revitalization is unique to our city in many ways, but it also represents a statewide focus on downtown redevelopment in cities throughout Georgia. These efforts are to be commended in every city and I would propose that leaders in every city can learn from the successful initiatives going on throughout our state. In 2011 I had the pleasure of serving on the Georgia Downtown Development task force co-chaired by then Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Georgia Cities Foundation President Mark Starr and thoroughly enjoyed learning of the amazing work being done in city centers all over Georgia. I've also enjoyed watching the innovative work of the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership in the years since as it truly represents what a collaborative partnership should look like.
           
In what can often be a siloed world, downtowns everywhere ultimately represent a melting pot and a connection point where local citizens and visitors alike can gather together on common ground. Here's wishing leaders from across the state the best in your downtown redevelopment efforts as these connection points for the citizens we serve are now more vital than ever.
 

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