Only a few days prior to the groundbreaking of the $50 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center on Reynolds Street, there was another significant groundbreaking on Broad Street that could forever change the face of downtown Augusta.
Members of a local investment group headed by John Engler of DTJR, LLC stood next to Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis and several Augusta commissioners to break ground on the five-story Hyatt House hotel that will be constructed right next to the Frog Hollow Tavern on the 1200 block of Broad Street.
The Hyatt House hotel, which is expected to offer at least 100 rooms, will include a 140-space parking deck and a local restaurant at the site of the former Capitol City Bank & Trust.
“It is pretty amazing that from right here it is about 1,500 feet over from where all of that (new construction) is going on,” Engler said, referring to the development of the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center on Reynolds Street. “What an exciting time for downtown Augusta.”
The timing couldn’t be better for the construction of the Hyatt House. The 159,000-square-foot Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center is expected to open by July 2018. Engler estimated Hyatt House would officially open its doors only a few months later in September 2018.
“Another key component about the project that is going to be a unique deal for downtown is we also expect to have a restaurant and retail component,” Engler said. “It is hard to see from the rendering here that we’ve depicted, but we will have another component over here next to Frog Hollow, so we look forward to being great neighbors, not only to Cyber Command, but also the other local businesses and also to bring in new businesses to downtown.”
When Engler announced the construction of the Hyatt House late last year, Frog Hollow owner and chef Sean Wight said he wholeheartedly welcomed the new hotel to the downtown area.
“I think the hotel will bring more people to Broad Street and it will help elevate the area,” Wight said. “It is going to be an upper-scale Hyatt, so we are really looking forward to more people being down here. The more the merrier.”
Sue Parr, president of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the impact that the private sector is having on downtown Augusta is tremendous.
“We have reached a tipping point in downtown Augusta,” Parr said. “This future hotel represents significant private sector investment that we would not transform downtown without. It will take the public sector and the private sector to really transform downtown into what we all know it can be.”
A new hotel on Broad Street is definitely a game-changer for downtown Augusta, Parr said.
“We have 1.7 million visitors to Augusta-Richmond County every year, so this project is a wonderful addition to that,” she said.
The Hyatt House on Broad Street will follow the franchise’s “upscale extended-stay brand” that offers mid- to upper-income transient and interim guests more unique living spaces and spacious accommodations.
Such an atmosphere will be perfect for those visiting Augusta University and the medical college, said Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Margaret Woodard.
“It is the largest private investment we’ve seen in a decade downtown,” Woodard said. “It is going to put a lot of feet on the streets and heads in beds and all of the clichés that you’ve ever heard. But what it is really going to do is it’s going to create a vitality in downtown Augusta and it’s going to attract more businesses.”
It will also completely change people’s perception of downtown Augusta, she said.
“You come across the river and this is the first thing you are going to see,” Woodard said. “In the past, development has generally been the middle of Broad Street. That area has seen a lot of investment, but now it’s moving to the upper end of Broad. And we really do need more hotel options downtown, so we really welcome this project.”
Around the same time of Hyatt House’s announcement late last year that it planned to locate in downtown Augusta, the city also learned another new hotel would be built in the downtown area along Reynolds and Ninth streets, directly across from the city-owned Augusta Convention Center and parking garage.
Augusta Riverfront LLC — a company owned by William S. Morris III, the publisher of The Augusta Chronicle — announced it would build a 125-room hotel at the site of the former city jail along Reynolds Street.
“We are partners with the city. We have been partners with the city since 1989 and it’s been very good for the city and for us, so this is a continuation of that,” said Paul Simon, president of Augusta Riverfront LLC, explaining that the company owns Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center and currently manages both the nearby city parking garage and Augusta Convention Center for the city. “Right now, we manage the parking deck and we manage the convention center and that has gone extremely well. We are bringing in a lot of people and providing a lot of economic benefits to the city. In fact, the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau has estimated that the convention center has had an economic impact of more than $16 million just this year.”
Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis said the addition of the Hyatt House is a major milestone for downtown Augusta.
“We are excited to be here today,” Davis said. “Today represents another step forward.
When you look at the investment that is about to take place, this is quite frankly the largest private sector investment for the last decade and a half in our urban core. It is extremely important.”
Davis predicted that the Hyatt House would not only be a wonderful hotel, but also a place for the community to “come and congregate.”
“As we come to break ground on this amazing project, it gives evidence to what can be done and what is possible in our city,” Davis said.
Augusta Commissioner Bill Fennoy, who represents the downtown area, said he can’t wait until the hotel opens in September 2018.
“I think it is going to have a very positive impact, not only Broad Street, but on the entire Augusta area,” Fennoy said. “Even when we have events like Arts in the Heart of Augusta or Westobou, I think it is going to have a great impact on downtown Augusta, the restaurants and the retail.”
People who haven’t been to downtown Augusta in the past several years probably won’t even recognize it by 2018, Fennoy said.
“This hotel will be completed about the same time as our Cyber Center,” Fennoy said. “So we are going to have a whole lot going on in Augusta. And, maybe, rather than people trying to compare Augusta to Greenville or Chattanooga or Columbus, they will be comparing other cities to Augusta. That’s what I’m hoping for.”