Work begins to spruce up U.S. 17 drive

The Brunswick News, April 06, 2013, page 5A

Ten Savannah College of Art and Design students from five countries who visited the Golden Isles for the first time this week are hoping their work here will leave a lasting impression.

The students in SCAD's master of urban design program spent the past two days touring the best and worst of Glynn County before embarking on their mission to provide an aesthetic redesign plan for U.S. 17, from Cypress Mill Road to Gloucester Street, to members of the Gateway Project.

The project to create a pleasing gateway to the community began less than a year ago with representatives of Brunswick and Glynn County govern­ments, the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau and members of the public.

U.S. 17 quickly became the focus of the project because of the blight along the corridor that is almost impossible to avoid when traveling to major tourist destina­tions in the county.

The students met Friday with Glynn County residents and officials behind the project to get a sense of the problems the community is facing and what they want to see in the future.

An evolving wish list includes more attractive road signs and signs that easily point visitors to areas of interest that may be hidden now, such as downtown Brunswick, and beautification through landscaping and the use of traditional coastal architectural materials, such as tabby.

Students will develop individual plans for local officials to consider, but Ryan Madson, professor of urban design who is overseeing their work, wants their plans to provide a long-term vision, not just a quick and temporary fix.

"We're helping you all kick start a much bigger effort…hopefully there will be ripple effects" Madson said.

The community is selling "the dream of the Golden Isles and its perfection" and needs its gateway corridors to reflect that, Scott McQuade, executive director of the convention and visitors bureau, told the students Friday.

"About 2.1 million visitors buy into that dream," he said.

Students have already begun research and analysis of who travels the gateway roads in Glynn County and why they come.

They're also educating themselves about the importance of the marshland in Glynn County and environmental con­cerns surrounding it. "We're really trying to understand the marsh ecosystem and how important that is for the region," Madson said.

Though the group from SCAD doesn't have a clear-cut idea of what the future of U.S. 17 might hold just yet, the members know that real change is going to take more than adding a landscaped median or a bike lane.

'It s about more than beautification." Madson said, "It's about the very functionality of the infrastructure." Brunswick City Commissioner Julie Martin, one of the officials behind the project, envisions the roadway becoming less of a thoroughfare and more of a walkable, attractive part of residents' lives. "The whole purpose is to spark redevelopment," Martin said.

For the 10 students from the United States, India, China, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, it's the beginning.

• Reporter Nikki Wiley writes about government, business and other local topics. Contact her at The Brunswick News, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 321.