Old chamber building downtown getting a facelift for $1 a year

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Friday, Dec. 21, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- An old building downtown is about to get a huge facelift. The city just signed an agreement to lease the old chamber building that sits in the middle of Broad Street.

"We've got a project going on partly funded by Starbucks and some private contributions to try to develop downtown," said City Administrator Fred Russell.

The city has entered into a deal to lease the old chamber building downtown to the nonprofit group Augusta Regional Collaboration.

"We've been working on this for about a year. So it's a great Christmas present to the city," said Mayor Deke Copenhaver.

The group will only pay $1 a year for five years to rent the building from the city, but in trade, they will renovate the abandoned space.

Once the dilapidated building is restored, the nonprofit plans to host public gatherings and become a think tank to bring economic development to the area.

"We'll use this as sort of an incubator, potentially some start-up kinds of things. Or just some groups that need to move together as we look at enhancing downtown," Russell said.

"You'll see artists. You'll see a military presence," Copenhaver said. "It'll be a gathering spot for the leaders of the community to collaborate and talk about how we can work together to move the city forward."

The process to approve the project was a little sketchy. Each commissioner met with the city administrator and consultant for the project behind closed doors.

"[We were] making sure they were aware of what was going on and how we were going to pitch that. We wanted to make sure they had input individually on how we could carve this together," Russell said.

The city administrator says, the closed-door meetings were to make sure the agreement had full support from all of the commissioners before it came up for a vote, and we have been assured, despite appearances, there is nothing sketchy about this deal.

"The energy, military and medical sectors collaborating on how to move the city forward is a great thing," Copenhaver said.

Starbucks and private donors are helping to foot the bill. This is just a piece of a larger plan to rejuvenate that area of downtown. This plan also includes reviving the old Miller Theatre and creating an entertainment district.

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