The Metro Spirit ran an interesting story about the long, sordid history of the former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property on Reynolds Street almost twenty years ago.
When the Golf Hall of Fame was first created by the Georgia General Assembly back in 1982, the project was believed to have the ability to transform Augusta into the “Disney World of Golf.”
In actuality, the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame board managed to spend more than $13 million in state and local funding, but never actually built much of anything.
Following is the story of Mildred Goolsby, who once owned the Riverwatch Convenience Store, formerly Mildred’s Lottery, on 13 St. in downtown Augusta.
She battled against the board of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame for years trying to protect her property.The building that once housed her lottery store, then a Krispey Kreme Doughnuts, is being renovated and will soon as a Domino’s Pizza.
Here is Goolsby’s story written by former Metro Spirit staff writer Brian Neill that ran about 20 years ago on March 29, 2001.
For 17 years, Mildred Goolsby toiled inside the Bath textile mill across the river in Aiken County, tediously inspecting reams of cloth as they came off the looms.
When she got laid off as the mill shut down operation, Goolsby immediately took a job cleaning houses and worked in her brother’s restaurant, making ends meet however she could.
The point of all this history being, Goolsby always worked hard for what she got. That includes the small plot of land that has, for the past four or so years, become a bone of contention, and which she refuses to give up.
Goolsby owns the Riverwatch Convenience Store, formerly Mildred’s Lottery, at 44 Thirteenth St.
The roughly half-acre parcel sits smack dab in the middle of perfection for organizers of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame and gardens.
As the stately, serpentine brick wall belonging to the Golf Hall of Fame winds its way down Reynolds Street toward Thirteenth Street, it has to make an abrupt dodge around Goolsby’s store before regaining distinguished continuity on the other side.
Goolsby said organizers of the Golf Hall of Fame have tried in the past to get her to follow suit with former businesses once located nearby, and move, in order to make way for the roughly 17-acre project, which is to cut the ribbon on its gardens on March 31, 2001 — coincidentally, Goolsby’s 50th birthday.
But Goolsby hasn’t budged.
And she took issue with a story that appeared in the March 20, 2001 business section of The Augusta Chronicle that seemed to imply she should.
Goolsby, the article stated, “still won’t sell her small corner lot at 13th and Reynolds streets.”
“From the street,” the article went on to add, “Ms. Goolsby’s Riverwatch Convenience store looks odd next to the well-manicured 17-acre museum and garden project.”
But Goolsby thinks the article failed to point out the most important thing: She was there first.
“They try to make it sound like I’m the bad guy here. But I’m not the bad guy here,” Goolsby said, taking a break from serving the lines of people filing into her store to buy lottery tickets on a recent morning. “Someone else needs to put themselves in my place. I was here first.”
And unlike the other businesses that long since signed on the dotted line, took the check and moved on, Goolsby is determined to stand her ground.
“It’s more the principle now than anything. It really is,” Goolsby said. “The big people are always trying to push the little person around. They’re right, (22) people did sell. That was their right. This is my right. If I want to stay here, I have the right to stay here. They can talk about how ugly my building is or whatever they want to say, I really don’t care.
“I’m not in here for a beauty contest, I’m in here to make a living and that’s what I do. And I do it well.”
Charlie Strawser, project manager for the Golf Hall of Fame and gardens, had a simple response: “We’re not pursuing that property.”
When asked about a claim by Goolsby that representatives from the Golf Hall of Fame approached her several years ago and implied that her property would be condemned if she didn’t sell, Strawser replied, “It wasn’t me.”
Strawser, in the Chronicle article, was reported to say that the Golf Hall of Fame was still interested in pursuing the property, but would not seek condemnation.
Goolsby said she also has had several run-ins with construction workers associated with the development of the museum — once when they attempted to demolish a brick wall on her property behind her store, and again, when a backhoe driver tried to dig on her property in order to run electricity to a bathroom located on the museum grounds.
“Well, you believe what you want to,” Strawser replied to those allegations. “I’m not going to discuss it. You know, we’re not pursuing that property.”
But museum organizers did pursue property adjacent to Goolsby’s, at 46 Thirteenth Street, that she had leased for parking for her customers.
In 2001, Goolsby’s store had been ranked one of the highest sellers of Georgia Lottery tickets in the state (sixth out of nearly 6,000 retailers) and the number one seller in Augusta. Between the years of 1993 and 1999, she sold $12 million worth of tickets.
Goolsby filed a lawsuit against the state and the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in 1999 in Richmond County Superior Court seeking reparations for customers lost through the decreased parking availability.
The suit alleged that the Golf Hall of Fame, through its agents, took the property, thereby terminating her lease. Golf Hall of Fame representatives, the suit stated, then erected a fence between her existing property and the former parking lot.
Goolsby, through her attorney, alleged in the suit that the taking of the parking area caused her a $526,674 loss of business, a figure arrived at through a professor of finance at Augusta State University.
The suit cited a portion of the Georgia Constitution which states, “…[P]rivate property shall not be taken or damaged for public purposes without just and adequate compensation being first paid.”
The suit also alleged that twice, an offer of $83,500 for the parcel Goolsby’s business currently occupies, was made through letters sent by representatives of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.
Paul Dunbar, who represented the Golf Hall of Fame in the lawsuit, said Goolsby’s complaint is a last-ditch effort to save her business from total loss as South Carolina’s lottery looms on the horizon.
Much of Goolsby’s business comes from South Carolinians coming across the Thirteenth Street Bridge to buy Georgia Lottery tickets.
“I think her real complaint Is that she wanted the Golf Hall of Fame to condemn her property so she could claim some tremendous amount of damage through it and the Golf Hall of Fame didn’t do that,” Dunbar said. “Because I think she realizes as soon as this South Carolina lottery goes into effect she’s out of business.”
But Goolsby said that assessment is highly exaggerated and she isn’t afraid of the new lottery’s arrival across the river.
“I got news for those people, they got the wrong person,” Goolsby said. “Because I don’t run from anything.”
Dunbar said the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame continued to allow Goolsby to use the parking lot until her lease expired on May 26, 1997.
He also said the ASU professor’s assessment of Goolsby’s lost business was “worth absolutely nothing” in light of the potential business she’ll lose once the lottery South Carolina voters gave a thumbs-up to last year begins operating.
“She said (in the lawsuit) that she was making over $200,000 a year selling lottery tickets,” Dunbar said. “Obviously, that little fraction of an acre isn’t worth that.
“The only thing the Golf Hall of Fame would be willing to pay her is the value of the land and the value of the land is only a drop in the bucket compared to what she says the value of her business is.”
Surprisingly, Goolsby said the Golf Hall of Fame could have already had her property if she had received a few, simple words of apology.
“You know what, this is the truth,” Goolsby said, “if those people would come to me and apologize to me, I would sell to them. All they do is pay my building off, I’d sell to them. I really would. I just want them to come and face me. That’s all I want. Whoever started this project, that’s who I want an apology from.”
Until then, Goolsby said, she’s staying put.
“They have a right to do whatever they want to do. So do I,” Goolsby said. “And I’m going to do what I want to do. They picked on the wrong person. They didn’t pick on a weak individual. They picked on somebody who is very strong.
“I’ve been through a lot in my lifetime and these people don’t frighten me at all.”