North Augusta's downtown has recently blossomed with the development of Riverside Village, and the downtown area is on the minds of both the city and North Augusta Forward, a local nonprofit.
The city's Planning and Development Department, plus Planning Commission, are looking to draft changes to downtown regulation. At the same time, North Augusta Forward, recently accepted to the Main Street South Carolina program, is working on some initiatives to boost downtown.
North Augusta's Planning and Development director Libby Hodges said traditionally, downtowns have been the city center, the place where commercial business happened.
"North Augusta is interesting that over time, we've had some of those functions move out into different places around the city," she said, mentioning the Exit 5/Sweetwater area and Knox Avenue.
Hodges said the city has a downtown, it's just a "little bit different."
She said the city is doing some adjustments to create more of a commercial center and having the existing downtown connect to the "new part" of downtown so that "when people come to visit, they don't just go to the stadium, they'll also go up the hill and and go to some of the stuff we have up there."
Downtown North Augusta runs from the Savannah River through Riverside Village up a hill to Georgia Avenue and to Calhoun Park and stretches two blocks over to the east and west.
Riverside Village was recently rezoned as downtown by City Council.
The city's Planning Committee, a recommending body, has formed a subcommittee to work on drafting changes to how the city regulates downtown.
"I think there are a few important things that we need to take a closer look at when it comes to downtown," Hodges said. She mentioned parking and making sure that what is already downtown continues to exist the way it is, while leaving room to grow.
The Planning Commission and Hodges' department recently did something very similar with sign codes and proposed changes to sign regulations and have been sent to City Council. In those proposed sign changes, they added a few new types of signs for downtown: iconic signage, murals and public art.
"We're hoping that it gives some opportunity for a little more creativity," Hodges said. "We want people to remember when they come to our downtown."
Main Street South Carolina
North Augusta Forward is heading up the Main Street South Carolina process and has a vision for downtown as well.
Main Street South Carolina is a downtown revitalization program. Earlier this year, a crew visited North Augusta and presented a "roadmap" for revitalization.
In their planning, the team asked for responses to a public survey and presented the results during a February meeting.
The top response for types of businesses needed were restaurants, meeting and event space and types of activities for live music and events.
Avery Spears-Mahoney, director of North Augusta Forward, said the general goal is to create a "vibrant and sustainable downtown."
She said that includes a mix of businesses with a flow of daytime and evening traffic, businesses that feed off each other and more convenient dining options. Spears-Mahoney said the organization wants to see a "24-hour downtown."
"I don't mean that in that the shops and the restaurants are open 24 hours, but there's people living in and near downtown and there's activities, maybe in the evenings for events, live music, arts and crafts-type events for kids," she said.
A pedestrian-friendly destination
Suzanne Fanning, one of the owners of the Pink Dipper on Georgia Avenue, said she likes that for her, downtown North Augusta feels like home and has a hometown feel, but said she would like to see it be more pedestrian-friendly with more restaurants and small boutiques.
Fanning said she'd like to see downtown become more of a destination, whereas currently, if someone's heading to downtown, they're going for a specific reason, whether it be to pick up medicine from Parks Pharmacy or ice cream from Pink Dipper.
Fanning said, to become more pedestrian-friendly, better parking and crosswalks both need to be considered.
To bring more people downtown, North Augusta Forward is spearheading the effort toward a Greeneway connector to downtown.
"We know there's tons of traffic on the Greeneway and lots of folks … enjoy that amenity, but they don't have a way to get into downtown, so the Greeneway Connector is to be an economic driver for downtown businesses," Spears-Mahoney said.
She said the connector, which as designed now, would use the downtown alley system, would allow people to come off the Greenway and experience downtown, whether that be restaurants, retail or events.
Planned projects and the future
Along with the Greeneway Connector, North Augusta Forward is looking at opportunities to add amenities to downtown, like yard games, benches and planters.
The organization also owns The Carpet Shop, an empty building on the corner of Center Street and Georgia Avenue.
They plan to add a second building on the property, and the two would have co-working space, a food hall, retail, a rooftop restaurant opportunity and green space.
Riverside Village also has more planned. Along with SRP Park – the Augusta GreenJackets stadium – and the Crowne Plaza Hotel, two restaurants have opened and there are two apartment communities. Yet-to-be constructed is an office building, a parking garage, a park, and more residential and retail space.