Getting the Last Laugh

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Getting the Last Laugh

Poor Deke.

In the twilight of his political career, at least as mayor of Augusta, lame duck Deke Copenhaver’s big finish is turning out to be a dud.

It’s not that he’s not trying, he’s just not having much success.

On August 14, we learned that after so much early promise (not to mention more than $300,000 in city funds), his dream of a Mills District teeming with GRU students was not meant to be. Without being able to muscle SPLOST VII through the voting public, specifically not being able to secure the $5.25 million to purchase the land connecting the Mills District to GRU’s other downtown properties, it seems the city couldn’t sweeten the deal enough to overcome GRU’s tepid response to the idea.

Then last Friday we learned that the outlet mall planned for the Village at Riverwatch, that 400,000-square-foot feather in Deke’s cap next to the lesser feathers of Costco and Cabelas, couldn’t drum up enough interest among the key fashion retailers to keep developer Ben Carter moving forward with the project.

And let’s not forget that all this happened after the loss of Deke’s first love, the downtown ballpark that currently seems to be marching to the altar with North Augusta.

Deke’s walk off homerun just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

And nobody’s laughing at the loss of the outlet mall more than rival Columbia County. The two governments have been snickering back and forth at each other since last July, when Columbia County announced an agreement with Bass Pro Shops to locate a 50,000-square-foot store on land off I-20 near Car Max.

The announcement was seen largely as a coup for Columbia County, since Augusta had been courting the outdoor retailer for years. Even Augusta’s announcement a day later that Bass Pro Shops competitor Cabela’s was going to open a store near in Richmond County next to Costco seemed a little disappointing.

That disappointment lasted until last October, when Bass Pro Shops backed out of its agreement with Columbia County. Then it was Augusta’s turn to laugh… until this February, when Columbia County responded with news that Gander Mountain had agreed to open a 52,000-square-foot store where Bass Pro was supposed to go.

Once everyone’s done laughing at Augusta’s latest misfortune, expect to hear again how Columbia County would be a natural location for an outlet mall.

It won’t be the first time. Back in 2011, Columbia County issued the results of its Outlet Mall Survey that said people wanted to see an outlet mall in the county. Big surprise there.

The plan at the time was to put the mall out at the Gateway area of Grovetown, which is now experiencing tremendous growth, but there was also some interest in locations off the Appling exit of I-20. With the housing boom ramping up and talk of moving the gate at Fort Gordon to a new location between Grovetown and Harlem, there might be even more interest in that area now.

Though certainly more of a PR stunt and an actual retail plan, the study was nevertheless distributed to the likely subjects. Even Blanchard and Calhoun’s Vice President Matt Mills talked it up at the International Council of Shopping Centers conference that year in Las Vegas.

Nothing came of it, however, and with Development Services Director Richard Harmon long gone and Augusta’s outlet mall looking to be a sure thing, the study and the concept was mostly forgotten. But you can bet Columbia County officials have already pulled it off the shelf and dusted it off.

Those guys really enjoy having the last laugh.

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