All of Augusta was celebrating this past week after Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced plans for a new $50 million cyber security facility at the former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property.
This is a major development for downtown Augusta.
The 150,000-square-foot facility, called the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, is being described as a “game changer” for the Augusta area.
But it is also believed to be the vision that has long been needed for the former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property along the Savannah River.
Many locals are asking the question: Is the curse finally over?
More than 25 years ago, Augusta had such grand plans for the 17-acre property along the Savannah River on Reynolds Street now referred to by most locals as “the old Georgia Golf Hall of Fame” site.
When the Golf Hall of Fame was first created by the Georgia General Assembly back in 1982, the project was believed to have the ability to transform Augusta into the “Disney World of Golf.”
After purchasing the property in 1987, the original vision was to build a 55,000-square-foot hall of fame building and rotunda in downtown Augusta along Reynolds Street that could potentially attract about 330,000 visitors each year and forever preserve the history of golf across the state.
But over the years, the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame board managed to spend more than $13 million in state and local funding, but never actually built much of anything.
The board constructed a long, stately serpentine brick wall that stretched along the property, separating the public from the site.
Then, the board spent more money creating a botanical garden featuring six bronze statues of legendary golfers, only to let the gardens eventually die and the statues, which cost sponsors between $100,000 to $250,000 each, to be relocated to the Augusta Museum of History and Augusta Regional Airport.
Of the $13 million in state and local funding given to the project, $6 million came from the city’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) and $1 million was provided by the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corporation.
Private contributions were estimated to be roughly around $15 million.
However, the project could simply never get off the ground.
Prior to the 2001 Masters, the board announced the opening of a 9-acre botanical garden called the Augusta Golf & Gardens.
It was a beautiful garden and a nice place to visit, but it fell far short of the original vision.
And by 2003, the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame board was back before the city asking for an additional $6 million in SPLOST monies to the utter shock of several Augusta commissioners.
The bad news didn’t stop there.
The original proposal of the 55,000-square-foot Georgia Golf Hall of Fame building, which called for, among other things, multiple conference rooms, a restaurant and an IMAX theater, had shrunk to 6,000 square feet or less — roughly one-tenth its original size.
The Georgia Golf Hall of Fame and the Augusta Golf & Gardens, combined, were envisioned as a $30 million project, but the city didn’t bite.
Commissioners rejected the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame board’s request for an additional $6 million in SPLOST because the city was facing nearly $90 million worth of infrastructure and drainage problems that were deemed a much higher priority.
That left the Golf Hall of Fame board turning to the state for financial help, which didn’t sit well with then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.
While the Georgia Legislature originally provided the project $6 million to help purchase the land on Reynolds Street and build the botanical gardens, the state also provided $58,000 to $85,000 for almost 10 years for the Augusta Golf & Gardens’ operating expenses.
But the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame board insisted that such funding barely paid the water bill for the gardens.
Let’s face it, the project was a disaster.
As a result, Perdue vetoed the annual funding for the facility and the Augusta Golf & Gardens had no choice but to officially closed its doors in 2007.
By 2010, then-Georgia Sen. Hardie Davis made a bold request to the state.
Davis asked the state legislators to support giving the city of Augusta the 17-acre Golf Hall of Fame property for $1, even though taxpayers still owed $2.85 million in debt service on the land.
Around the same time, then-Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver was hoping that the Reynolds Street property could redeveloped as a baseball stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets with the help of the team’s co-owner and baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr.
But those plans totally fell through.
Just when there appeared to be no light at the end of the tunnel for the former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia entered the picture in 2012.
The General Assembly approved transferring the 17-acre site to the University System of Georgia because the then-Georgia Health Sciences University expressed interest in using the property to expand its campus following its merger with then-Augusta State University.
Now, under the leadership of Augusta University President Brooks Keel, the property has new promise.
“The governor’s vision for a facility which will allow the best and the brightest in academia, industry and government to work together to address global cyber security challenges is truly transformational,” Keel stated in a press release. “Construction of a cyber-range will allow us to provide state-of-the-art training for the cyber workforce that is so desperately needed by industry and our military. I look forward to working closely with all of our partners as we do even more to turn this vision into a vibrant reality.”
A vibrant reality.
That is exactly what that piece of property on the Savannah River desperately needs.
Best wishes to Augusta University and the governor’s new vision.
Let’s really hope it is a “game changer” for downtown Augusta.