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New North Augusta mayor looks ahead to opportunities, challenges

Posted: May 17, 2017 - 1:29am
Retiring North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones (left) hands over the gavel to new Mayor Bob Pettit at the North Augusta City Council meeting. Pettit enters office as the first new mayor the city has elected in 20 years.
Retiring North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones (left) hands over the gavel to new Mayor Bob Pettit at the North Augusta City Council meeting. Pettit enters office as the first new mayor the city has elected in 20 years.

North Augusta, Bob Pettit wants to hear from you.

The new mayor said last week he wants his administration to "communicate more openly and effectively with people," and he wants to know what residents want from their city government - right now and over the long haul.

"Their input and ideas are more important than my own ideas," said Pettit, who replaced longtime Mayor Lark Jones on May 1. "People talk about how they want North Augusta to be. I want to figure out how to set an overall plan and get that done. ... If we all understand that then we have a target."

He campaigned on transparency, and he means to keep that promise, he said. He's planning to hold listening sessions with North Augustans in various parts of the city and will announce a schedule later.

Right now, though, "making Project Jackson successful has to be the No. 1 focus."

"The ballpark is a big part, but it's the rest of the development that's going to make it a success," he said.

The project, also known as Ballpark Village, is connected to downtown revitalization and the city's efforts to get its share of the cyber bounty expected to come to the Augusta area. It even affects plans for a new fire station and public safety headquarters.

"We've got to figure out how to get downtown revitalization to be part of the enthusiasm over Project Jackson," Pettit said. "What can we expect? We can't reasonably expect big retail - maybe more boutique. We need the citizens to figure out what they want and let me know."

Pettit said the Army is about to spend a large portion of its construction budget at Fort Gordon as it gears up to be the nation's top cybersecurity hub. That represents a lot of new area residents whose buying power will be felt everywhere.

"We've got to figure out how to get part of that," Pettit said.

It's an opportunity and a challenge. For example, building office space that cyber firms can use costs as much as $600 a square foot.

"No one can build that on spec," Pettit said. The city needs to figure out what firms it can lure and start talking to them now.

"We need to identify it early and make sure we build it," he said.

The new fire station is driven by the need to put a ladder truck closer to Ballpark Village and its high-rise hotel.

The city has the land, at the top of the hill where Georgia Avenue and Martintown Road intersect, and the money to build the fire station. Public safety headquarters will probably be on a future ballot as a local option sales tax project - maybe as early as 2018.

The fire station will look a lot like the newest completed one on Belvedere-Clearwater Road, possibly with a few tweaks to make it aesthetically compatible with the area. Pettit said the city knows preservation groups are very interested in trying to save the Carriage House and Caretaker's House, and he wants to help them if he can.

"I've heard conflicting reports on the structural integrity of the Carriage House," said Pettit, who is an engineer. "We've identified the specimen trees. Most will survive, but some will have to go."

He said a sale of a lot-sized parcel at the site has been discussed and remains a possibility. The bottom line, still, is the people talking to their government and it responding, he said.

But he hopes people will take this fresh start as an opportunity to look on the bright side.

"Let's be positive because people that want to relocate here pay attention to social media and what people are saying," he said.

Pettit has talked to every department head and they're "all top-notch people who recognize that the city government exists for the citizens," he said. "The No. 1 thing I've told them is I'm old-fashioned and I believe it's not about us, it's about the people."

As the first new mayor the town has elected in 20 years, he knows he'll face some steep challenges.

"I've got a handle on most of the things we're dealing with right now. It's the things we don't know about that are going to be the problem. And problems occur in every situation in life. It's how you deal with the uncertainties, the mistakes and the unknown."

That's why it's so important the city and its residents know what they're working toward, so they don't get sidetracked.

"There's a multitude of things to deal with. I'll just have to take them one at a time," Pettit said. "I never promised perfection. I only promised integrity."

 

Reach James Folker at (706) 340-0116 or james.folker@augustachronicle.com.

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