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UGa team says tract should have an Effingham feel to it
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Buildings and facilities that will be created in the Research Forest Tract need to have an Effingham County feel to them, according to a University of Georgia research team.

The university’s College of Environmental Science spent the weekend combing through the Effingham Industrial Development Authority’s Research Forest Tract and came up with its vision for what the tract could become.

“This is exactly what I had in mind for the style of architecture for that project,” Effingham IDA CEO John Henry said. “I can market this to private industries and show them what our vision is, that their investment will be supported by a full-fledged plan.

“I want to worry about how quickly I can sell this to corporate executives to put their money into Effingham County. It is much easier to go with this than with a picture of pine trees.”

Among its findings, the charrette design team laid out a potential route for the east-west corridor that cuts across the northern sector of the Research Forest Tract. That design includes a large section of the tract to be reserved for environmental purposes.

The IDA has discussed frequently its ideas of recreational uses for portions of the Research Forest Tract, including potential nature trails, lakes for fishing and boating and a possible cross country course. Team leader Pratt Cassity also mapped a potential 60-mile biking trail around the county.

“I think that just adds to it,” Henry said of the charrette design team’s outline. “This takes it one step further than what we were thinking. It’s going to have to evolve. But the more input from the community we have, the better.”

“It is not a plan to build from,” Cassity said. “It is a plan to think from. We’re not engineers; we’re land designers. Our goal is to enhance and protect and then develop the land. Our suggestions are going to be a little bit different than what you have seen.”

The county was described to the research team as a funnel, both in form and in its function.

“And that funnel is funneling right down into the city of Savannah,” Cassity said.

Effingham is also a microcosm of the state and shares the same problems as many other communities, he said. But it also is very unique and it should not try to be Savannah.

“You have a place that speaks of the place,” Cassity said. “There is no doubt about that.”

But Henry welcomed the charrette team’s suggestions, which included heavy industrial set aside by a buffer on the northern half of the tract, commercial and executive offices on the eastern edge, near the tract’s border with Rincon, and scientific and research offices in the area between where the Effingham Parkway may go and the Hodgeville Road border.

“That north-south corridor is going to be so important for the site,” Cassity said. “It is the Effingham Parkway that is going to make the tract the most successful.”

The team also had an idea for the southern perimeter of the tract — a retreat center to include a lodge. Its ideas for the buildings’ styles it drew from the architecture of such places as the Methodist Campground in Springfield — so the center would have a distinct Effingham County look and appeal.

“We were inspired by what we saw,” said Jennifer Lewis. “That timber framing is what spoke to us. It looked like Effingham County.”

Along with it would be a commercial area and the retreat area also would include a nature and interpretative center. Cassity envisioned high-tech companies using the center to conduct company get-togethers.

“It could be the retreat capital of Georgia,” he said.

Cassity also said the commercial development of the Research Forest Tract should steer away from the strip mall-style of building.

Cassity and his team called Effingham “a completely hidden gem” and raved about what could transpire.

“We think you have incredible possibilities,” he said. “We don’t want this to be an end — we want it to be a beginning.

“This particular charrette has had some of the most creative thought in any of the charrettes we’ve done,” Cassity said. “And we’re going to be back. It was too much of a good thing for us not to explore this county more.”