The University System of Georgia Board of Regents has hired a consultant to evaluate Augusta's proposal to develop a cultural campus downtown and a mills campus in Harrisburg, according to City Administrator Fred Russell.
No one with the regents was available late Thursday to confirm Russell's announcement, which he made at a District 1 town hall meeting held by Augusta Commission member Bill Fennoy at the Kroc Center.
Russell said he'll recommend the city wait to make an initial financial commitment of about $500,000 to further develop the proposal until the “campus planning group” gives a thumbs up or down to all or parts of the massive proposal.
"If they say it's a cool thing, I think we're full speed ahead," he said.
The large, vacant Sibley and King mills – slated in the campus proposal to be converted to classroom, housing and other space for Georgia Regents University – neighbors the Kroc Center in Harrisburg.
Salvation Army Capt. Tony Perez, the area commander who runs the Kroc Center, called the city's plans “a wonderful concept” that would open doors to opportunities for volunteers, interns and others to give back to Harrisburg.
“I just see so many great things that could impact this community in a big way,” Perez said.
Fennoy brought Russell; Environmental Services Deputy Director Lori Videtto; Urban Pro Weekly Publisher Ben Hassan; former District 1 Commission candidate Denice Traina, whom he recently appointed to Augusta's Planning Commission; state Rep. Wayne Howard; and others to speak to the handful of residents who attended the meeting.
Fennoy and Hassan had news of their own. Fennoy said he's proposing the city install security cameras and signs along the riverwalk to deter crime and make visitors feel safe. He said the commission will discuss the issue at an upcoming meeting.
Fennoy said Thursday's meeting followed similar ones he's held in the District 1 communities of Sand Hills, Eastview and Laney-Walker.
All face similar issues of blight and poverty, he said.
“I think at some point in time, we as a community need to come together and we need to start addressing these issues,” he said. “I can't do anything to change my neighborhood until I do something to change your neighborhood.”
Hassan, after hearing concerns about the city's downtrodden, announced he was running on similar issues for the District 6 commission seat in 2014, when Commissioner Joe Jackson's second term ends.
“You can build a building, but a building doesn't build people,” Hassan said.