600 Broad Serves Business and Cultural Communities
By Gary Kauffman
Most buildings are constructed on one side of the street or the other, but Augusta has a unique distinction of having a building smack dab in the middle of a street. Not only is its location unique, but so is its design and, to a degree, its current use.
Known as the old Chamber building, or simply as that weird building in the middle of Broad Street, the building has the official title of 600 Broad. It sits literally in the middle of Broad Street at the intersection with Sixth Street.
Today, it is under the auspices of the Augusta Regional Collaboration, a nonprofit group that seeks to develop real estate for public purposes. It contains a public space for local artists to exhibit their work, 13 “business incubator” offices for entrepreneurs and a public meeting space.
“Rather than building a new building, we’re using the assets we already have,” said Charles Murdorf, assistant vice president of ARC and the building’s manager.
600 Broad also is an anchor in ARC’s Four Corners Plan, a private-public venture to encourage development in four sections of Augusta. The “corners” are the downtown area, the mills, the medical district and the Laney-Walker area.
The building, designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, originally served as the home for the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce. But it was vacant from 2010 until ARC took possession in 2015.
600 Broad has become especially popular among entrepreneurs. Office spaces on the second floor range from 90 square feet to 1,000 square feet and, because of ARC’s nonprofit status, are rented at below-market rates. All 13 spaces are now occupied, and there a dozen more entrepreneurs are on the waiting list.
Murdorf said the facility provides startups a place to get their feet wet in business at a lower cost. Utilities, except for high-speed internet, are included in the rent.
“It’s sort of a learning opportunity, and you don’t have to invest heavily,” he said. “The leases start at six months, so you’re not locked into a long-term lease.”
Although some of the entrepreneurs could easily work from home, the office spaces allow them to get away from the distractions homes can have.
“You can focus on growing your business without all the other distractions,” Murdorf said.
Current tenants include a wide range of entrepreneurs, such as a software company, a life coach, a management company and the office of a construction company. The building also houses the office of the Augusta Black Chamber of Commerce.
600 Broad has already seen some success stories of businesses that started there before launching into bigger ventures. The Augusta Film Office, Friends with Benefits and the Greater Augusta Youth Theatre are among the examples.
The art gallery space offers two floors for artists, or groups of artists, to display their work. The works can be a bit avant garde.
“It’s not like what you’d see at Arts in the Heart,” Murdorf said. “Our artwork is targeted toward a younger demographic, but we do try to keep it family-friendly.”
The gallery is open to the public, and special exhibit events take place periodically.
Opposite the gallery on the ground floor is the community room that can be rented by the hour or by the day for anything from business meetings and networking events to birthday parties. It is available from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.
One of ARC’s goals with 600 Broad is to bring more people into that area of the downtown. While many people are discovering the restaurants and businesses on other parts of Broad, their wanderings usually don’t take them beyond Ninth Street. Part of that is a perception that that end of Broad Street is dangerous.
“That’s always in the back of people’s minds,” Murdorf said, “but wrongly so. We have events here running late into the night, and we’ve never had an incident.”
For a short time, 600 Broad paired with Augusta Trolley to bring people to the building at night but had to curtail that because of the cost involved. Murdorf hopes, though, that people will start gravitating that way.
“We would like to make this a hive of activity,” he said. “The design of the building draws people.”
Realizing the limitations of the space inside 600 Broad, Murdorf also hopes to expand the concept to other buildings in the area. That would provide more opportunities for businesses currently on the waiting list and would help expand the cultural side of ARC’s plans.
“Ideally, we’d like to replicate this in other locations,” he said. “The demand is there. And I’d like to get some studio/gallery space for artists. You can only do so much artwork at home before you’re overwhelmed.”
600 Broad is just part of ARC’s success so far in developing the Four Corners Plan. ARC also played an instrumental role in attracting Unisys to the downtown area, in bringing Cape Augusta to the mills district and in working with Augusta University to consolidate its expansion in the medical district. It recently helped establish Foundry Place, a 221-unit apartment complex in the Laney-Walker district that is expected to be completed in late summer 2019.