Only last April, the address of 631 Chafee Ave. in Augusta was open land, and its sister property across the street at 624 Chafee was a disused transit station.
By this April, that open land had already given way to a 33,000-square-foot brick-and-glass structure that promises improved literacy, better access to health care and better nutrition for the two disinvested neighborhoods it’s meant to serve.
Augusta University Literacy Center, RISE Augusta, Harrisburg Family Healthcare and Augusta Locally Grown are the four organizations that now have permanent space at “HUB West.”
And on the site of that former transit station is “HUB West” and the new headquarters for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Augusta. Both buildings opened to the public June 27.
“Bringing these essential services, that these nonprofits provide, together on a single campus that’s accessible to all residents of Augusta will have a transformational effect for our community,” said Shell Berry, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the CSRA.
Berry, along with other founding members of the HUB Augusta Collaborative — Kim Evans, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Augusta; and Ian Mercier, president of the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) Foundation — addressed a crowd of people outside HUB West the morning of Friday, June 24.
“The objective could not be clearer,” said Berry. “We want to encourage innovative, collaborative approaches for revitalizing Harrisburg and Laney Walker, and by bringing the existing resources and nonprofits together in one location we know that we can help them sustainably grow to meet the needs of our downtown core and bolster equitable access to all essential elements of a thriving community.”
The two structures taken together make up the HUB for Community Innovation, a $33.5 million project that began in earnest after Augusta National Chairman Fred S. Ridley announced in November 2020 that the golf club and its corporate partners would back investment, with a $10 million donation, in the historic and predominantly African American Harrisburg and Laney-Walker neighborhoods.
Partners AT&T, Bank of America and IBM each contributed $2.5 million alongside the National; that $2.5 million was then matched this spring by an additional contribution from the Georgia Power Foundation.
The Georgia Power Foundation’s Chris Womack, who serves as the foundation’s chairman, president and CEO, was on site Friday. So, too, was Ora Parish, president of Bank of America Augusta-Aiken. Both men expressed excitement for the project just after the ribbon was cut.
In addition to big-name donors, the HUB Collaborative was able to leverage the New Markets Tax Credits program, which works to incentivize private investment in underserved areas like Harrisburg and Laney Walker.
Through that program, the Collaborative had secured an additional $4 million for the first phase of construction.
The two neighborhoods that will benefit most from the project, Harrisburg and Laney Walker, are two of Augusta’s oldest. They are historically blue collar and predominantly African American.
They’ve seen little investment, and in 2017 the two neighborhoods lost their last remaining grocer, turning the area into a food desert and one with what leaders in the HUB Collaborative said is often unreliable transportation service.
Median household income in the two neighborhoods, which sit either side of the 15th Street corridor, is $18,798 or less than half the median household income of $38,595 that characterizes the city of Augusta as a whole. The area is also largely renter-occupied and with no mixed-income housing available.
Which makes the HUB project, as Berry said, transformational.
The nine exam rooms of Harrisburg Family Healthcare are just a few yards from the classrooms and good nutrition of Augusta Locally Grown. Academic resources are at hand from both Augusta University and RISE. Mentoring is available through the Boys and Girls Club.
But continued investment in the project will still be needed, said Berry.
There’s a need to be “ever mindful that these buildings — even ones as extraordinary as these — are only as good as the work that happens within and through them,” she said.
Said Rev. Dr. Charles E. Goodman, “Anyone who builds a building understands it’s more than just building the building; we must do the work to continue what it takes […] there’s a brick that each of us can lay.”
Goodman is pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church, one and a half miles away on Laney Walker Boulevard.
“This is great for Augusta,” he said. “In a time when we think of all the things that can divide us, it’s good for us to come out for something that can unite us, something that can bring us together […] At the end of the day, it’s all about us coming together for a great Augusta, from young to old, so that we can be a better people.”
The HUB Collaborative also hosted a series of pre-opening events on Saturday: food demonstrations and a petting zoo (Augusta Locally Grown’s Brandi Wallace is also the Brandi Wallace of Wallace’s Farm). Comic books and a sensory walk, Sid the Science Kid and a quick appearance by Paine College’s mascot were also part of the 3-hour celebration on Saturday.