There was perhaps more uncertainty involved in the production of this particular issue than in any previous edition of 1736.
There are many unknowns right now, and many could have an impact on what you read in this edition.
For example, as of press time we have no clue what direction the commerce-disrupting COVID-19 pandemic will take. It could worsen, stabilize or – if we’re lucky – scientists will have discovered a vaccine. That last one’s a longshot, but it could happen.
Another wild card is the 2020 Masters Tournament, Augusta’s single-largest economic event. Will the tournament run as usual? Will the Augusta National Golf Club host it spectator-free, like other tournaments have done? Will the club just call the whole thing off (which is something it hasn’t done since World War II)?
Another unknown is the city’s municipal runoff election, which will have been decided between the time I write this and the time you read it. All three seats up for grabs are important to the future of downtown because it takes consensus for Augusta commissioners to shape public policy.
But the most important of the three is the District 1 runoff; the district covers all of downtown and far east Augusta. The race between real estate investor Michael Thurman and Jordan Johnson, director of the nonprofit Boys and Girls Club organization, is one where the ultimate winner has an opportunity to be a true “champion” for downtown.
And downtown needs a champion in city government. I’ve lived in metro Augusta for 23 years, and I can honestly say no District 1 representative during that time has fit my personal criteria for being a true advocate.
Perhaps my bar is too high. Perhaps it’s because I consider District 1 to be the most important district in the city.
District 1 is pure, concentrated “Augusta.” It is the true embodiment of the city for visitors and residents alike. It’s the cultural, entertainment, employment and economic epicenter of the city.
The district’s new commissioner needs to be as in tune with its commercial property owners, shopkeepers and other stakeholders as he is with homeowners in the historic neighborhoods surrounding the central business district.
The two constituent groups are more connected than one may think. What benefits urban neighborhoods benefits the central business district and vice-versa. The best way to improve downtown – and the city’s overall tax base – is to get more people living there.
Promoting the creation of new and renovated market-rate housing units in the urban core should be the new commissioner’s No. 1 goal. Increasing residential density in an area where infrastructure already exists can help fund projects in the county’s other areas, which need parks, trails, better streets and a host of other public services.
Regardless of who wins the runoff, and regardless of the pandemic and the Masters Tournament, downtown Augusta will be A-OK in the long run. It has fundamentally turned a corner in the past couple of decades, from a gritty but charming place to grab a quick bite and a drink to a place where you can dine on unique chef-inspired entrees and catch first-rate shows (when there is not pandemic, of course).
Downtown still has some gritty areas, but most people seem fine with that. It makes our downtown look “lived in” and authentic, which is something visitors increasingly seek in their tourism experiences.
Just keep downtown relatively safe and clean and it will continue to prosper.
Bottom line: No short-term uncertainties can change the fundamentals of Augusta’s downtown. Months from now, people will still want to live there. People will still want to work there. And people will still want to be entertained there.
And as everybody knows, when people really want something, they can only be slowed. They can’t be stopped.