All In Augusta Campaign Has Bold Expectations for Garden City
Augusta is growing up, and that means changing how it views its potential. A five-year campaign titled All In Augusta plans to help the city think of itself in grown-up terms by 2024.
“We’re not a small town anymore,” said Deke Copenhaver, chairman of the All In Augusta campaign and former Augusta mayor. “The focus in everything we do has to be world-class.”
The campaign will promote ways to tell Augusta’s story, upgrade the downtown area and develop new attractions, all with the goal of increasing the number of visitors to the area while enhancing daily life for residents and businesses.
“It’s thinking big,” said Bennish Brown, president and CEO of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You’ll see some very bold expectations in the plan.”
The ambitious plan is actually a merging of a number of plans and ideas, including the Augusta CVB’s 2017 Destination Blueprint and parts of seven existing master plans. It involved a cross-section of people from the community, businesses, foundations, the Greater Augusta Arts Council, the Downtown Development Authority, city government, the medical district and Fort Gordon.
“We have to work together for the next steps to happen,” Brown said. “It can’t happen with just one entity or one person.”
The current and anticipated growth of the city created the need to evaluate how Augusta area markets itself. Currently, an average of 13 people move into the area each day. With expansion at Fort Gordon, new hiring at Savannah River Site and the increase in cyber and technology companies, that is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
Along with that, increasing Augusta’s value as a tourist destination will also boost the economy.
“Augusta has great bones, a great history, but now we need to elevate this as a destination,” Brown said.
A tradition of hospitality
One of those bones is something the city has done well for many years because of the Masters Tournament — hospitality.
Copenhaver said that at the recent Ironman competition in Augusta, several competitors who participate in such events around the country said that Augusta was their favorite destination. The reason? Its welcoming atmosphere.
“We know how to do hospitality,” Copenhaver said. “We’re well-trained in how to do it because we’ve done it for generations.”
Brown has heard the same thing. He spoke at a recent convention that included participants from 13 Southeastern states. Many raved about their experience in Augusta.
“They might as well have poured sugar in my ears, it was so sweet,” he said.
All In Augusta plans to build on what people already love about the city to create a new, vibrant atmosphere.
“We want to retain the wonderful Southern charm and the rich history, but it is a new Augusta,” Brown said.
A vibrant nightlife
One of the first tasks will be convincing long-time Augusta-area residents that the city has grown up.
“This is not your grandmother’s Augusta,” Copenhaver said.
He cited an active nightlife downtown. For example, the new Garden City Social (formerly Sky City) is so popular that the wait time to be seated is an hour or more. On the night of the recent Guitar Pull, Copenhaver said, he found wait times of an hour at several area restaurants.
Continuing to build on the vibrant nightlife will be important for the future as the area’s labor force turns younger. To that end, the All In Augusta campaign actively sought the input of younger leaders.
“When you think about the labor force in cyber and technology, it’s younger and it’s well-paid,” Copenhaver said. “We need to be attractive to that generation in order to help our businesses attract that labor force. We’ve actively incorporated the voices of the younger generation and we should, because they’ll benefit from it more than anyone else.”
Part of the All in Augusta campaign calls for the CVB to implement the Business Improvement District, which helps keep downtown clean.
“When visitors or potential businesses come to Augusta, it’s important to look like the Garden City,” Copenhaver said.
Brown said that there are items in the five-year plan that are “low-hanging fruit.”
“We’ll find some easy wins to give the community confidence,” he said.
Brown said one change Augustans need to make is to stop thinking of visitors as simply overnight guests who won’t return. Often the visitors are businesspeople who are considering new locations or people who are seeking a new place to put down roots. Giving them enjoyable reasons to choose Augusta is important.
“We’ve seen an increase in visitors but also an increase in people moving downtown,” Brown said.
He noted that economic numbers are tied to this increase in both tourism and move-ins.
“As we begin to improve the assets of the community, there will be a definite positive outcome,” he said.
Community cooperation and money
All of this will take cooperation and money. The goal of the campaign is to raise $6 million. Portions of that will be used to establish a new center to showcase the Augusta area, which will be important for tourists but will also be designed to inspire residents to see what Augusta has become.
Also on the table are plans for a new CVB and Augusta Sports Council headquarters on Broad Street. The showcase center and new CVB headquarters are expected to require about half of the $6 million.
Included in upgrading downtown will be expanding Augusta Common to the Savannah River; establishing a sculpture garden in conjunction with the Greater Augusta Arts Council; setting up tours and shuttles using golf cars; expanding the bicycle and pedestrian network; and establishing and promoting an International Soul Festival infused with James Brown-inspired music and Southern food.
Both Copenhaver and Brown assured the community that All In Augusta won’t be one of those studies that simply gathers dust for years and never sees completion.
“I want to ensure investors that this campaign will get action,” Brown said, adding that the new Entertainment Zone downtown is a product of Destination Blueprint.
“There’s such energy and enthusiasm at the grassroots level,” Copenhaver said. “If you want to get involved, we want to plug you in.”
One of the main roles Brown and Copenhaver play in All In Augusta is one they enjoy — being cheerleaders for the region.
“This is a great community to live in,” Copenhaver said. “It’s all here — if you want urban, we’ve got it; if you want suburban, we’ve got it; if you want waterfront, we’ve got it. The whole is greater than its parts.”
Brown, although relatively new to his position, has already fallen in love with the city and isn’t shy about letting it be known.
“I’m excited and proud to be part of an organization that helps yell Augusta’s name,” he said.
For more information and for investment opportunities, go online to visitaugusta.com/all-in-augusta.