In the center of several large revitalization projects for inner city Augusta you’ll find Dr. David Squires, whose passion for helping others fuels his desire to breathe new life into several downtown neighborhoods. This month, he shares with us details about the revitalization efforts.
What is your connection to downtown Augusta?
I moved to Augusta eighteen years ago specifically to work with Augusta Oncology as a medical oncologist. I’ve seen over 10,000 patients since then, and many of the patients are from this community. So I know the people in this area well and I care about them and love them.
How did you become aware of the level of need in Augusta’s downtown neighborhoods?
In my role as the Augusta Stake President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and oncologist associated with University Hospital, I have visited many people in their homes and have felt that despite being right next to an impressive medical complex, it was a very depressing place to live. There are more unhealthy, condemned, abandoned & dilapidated properties here than anywhere in the CSRA. It is discouraging for youth to grow up with such blight surrounding them. I wanted to help those in this area have the same opportunities to rise up from poverty to prosperity as people in other neighborhoods.
What did you do once you realized there was a problem?
I studied the history of Augusta and inner-city blight, which has happened in many cities, including Augusta. As a medical oncologist, I’m used to continually researching the best ways to handle diseases. I learn about the problems and evaluate the experts’ solutions, then adjust those solutions to the patient’s situations. So I put a lot of time into reading books and studies about how to successfully transform blighted neighborhoods into healthy communities that benefit everyone.
What did you find in your research on revitalization?
I found that a robust revitalization requires 3 things: 1. Collaboration between local government, non-profits, private developers, banks, and other passionate individuals/groups. 2. Diversity of jobs, income levels, housing units, and backgrounds. Selling market rate houses in a blighted area is essential because it significantly increases the demand for and value of other housing. 3. Ownership. The key to helping low and middle income people is to help them become property owners. That means we need zoning changes and overlays (which are nearly impossible) to allow for smaller and higher density housing units that they can initially afford.
These three attract businesses and grocery stores to the area, increase the tax base, improve the schools, and boost community morale as people get to know each other and take pride in their beautiful neighborhoods.
Once you knew what needed to happen, who did you connect with to begin the process?
I talked with one of my close friends, Larry Keel of Dynamic Finishings, and he said he wanted to help. He met with Hawthorne Welcher, Augusta-Richmond County Director of Housing and Community Development. Hawthorne connected us with Edith Peebles who is the Executive Director for the Laney Walker Development Corporation (LWDC). Edith is an amazing woman who has a passion for helping people in that area and creating a better community. Larry and I founded Sapphire Revitalization Group (SRG) to serve as a private developer for this area. Cliff Eckles at Queensborough Bank has also supported our efforts.
What are you currently working on with the revitalization effort?
Working with individual property owners and the land bank over the last 4 years, Edith Peebles (LWDC) and I (SRG) were able to acquire some properties in the area. We then demolished and cleaned up many of these properties. Our first collaborative building project is Wrights Point.
What can you tell us about the Wrights Point project?
These are eleven market-rate houses starting at 1475 Wrightsboro Road across the street from Augusta University and Beacon Station. People who want to live near downtown, the medical complex, or Augusta University will find this location extremely convenient and very affordable for what they offer. These are also in the enterprise zone, which means property tax abatement.
The houses are grouped together because in other cities it is more successful to group market-rate houses together in the early phases of revitalization. This will be a watershed event. When these houses sell, it will open up more opportunities to develop the area because it will break the long-lasting effects of prejudiced red-lining practices by providing comparable housing sales. The plan is to have the first five houses ready between June and August. They are 4 bedroom, 4.5 bathroom smart homes with a two-car garage, outdoor living spaces, and an HOA. They are designed with high-end flooring, paint, and granite countertops (Visit www.WrightsPointAugusta.com for more details).
What other projects are on the horizon?
We’ve also acquired properties for LWDC across the street from University Hospital. We are working with the Augusta Birth Center (ABC), a nonprofit, to put a birthing center there that would serve the whole community but especially those in the Laney Walker and Harrisburg areas. They would serve those with or without insurance and would also provide prenatal and postnatal counseling, vasectomies, and a baby drop box. ABC will work closely with the hospital and patients to ensure that any risky deliveries will be done in the hospital. With community and government support we hope the center will be open by the fall of 2022.
What else would you like our readers and the community to know?
As we work together collaboratively as a community, we can successfully revitalize our blighted areas in a way that includes and benefits everyone. This will spark further growth and pride in our beautiful city. If somebody has an interest in helping with the revitalization efforts in Augusta, I want to work with them. If I can’t help them, I know other people who can, and I can connect them.
Dr. Squires also enjoys spending time with his wife and eight children. If you would like to join the revitalization effort, please contact Dr. Squires by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 706-834-1929.
Pull quote: I found that a robust revitalization requires three things: collaboration, diversity of jobs, and ownership.