In this week’s cover story, several owners of local car dealerships discussed both the past and future of south Augusta.
Some of the owners once had longtime locations along Gordon Highway back in its heyday.
In fact, during one of the interviews, Andy Jones of Gerald Jones Auto Group discussed with Metro Spirit reporter Stacey Eidson some possibilities that the city could look at to help transform the former Regency Mall site.
“I would have loved to have seen the courthouse and all of those government buildings go to the Regency Mall location like what was discussed years ago,” Jones said. “That would have had a big impact. However, I do not agree with the proposal of the arena being built there. Because how often do you use the arena? But if there were government buildings out there that were used every day on a site with all that parking, I would have loved to have seen that happen.”
But it didn’t, so residents and community leaders need to get serious about potential uses for the Regency Mall site, he said.
“I think the potential with Cyber Command would be a great option because Regency Mall is centrally located,” Jones said. “Or, I would think businesses like call centers or medical facilities would also be good because people would drive out there for a service. It would not be anything like retail. People would go to a medical facility for a specific purpose.”
Those kinds of companies would attract more jobs and supporting businesses to the south Augusta area, Jones said.
More employees would, in turn, attract additional restaurants and possibly even new retail.
“Let’s face it. Other than Villa Europa, there are very few nice restaurants south of Wrightsboro Road,” Jones said. “There’s also no movie theaters or shopping.”
Many of the neighborhoods in south Augusta are older and, therefore, the homes are much more affordable than new developments that can be found in Columbia County, he said.
“But there is more new construction out in south Augusta than most people might think,” Jones said. “Off Tobacco Road, there are some big apartment complexes being built.”
However, there are still aging neighborhoods with abandoned homes scattered within the community, he said.
“You get two or three abandoned houses on a street, it can bring down the entire neighborhood,” Jones said. “It’s such a shame because there are so many good people in south Augusta. People have a lot of pride in their homes and their community. But, when you get abandoned houses in a neighborhood, some of the older people, who have lived there a long time, they become afraid.”
In Jones’ opinion, the city needs to really concentrate on tearing down the abandoned homes in south Augusta and offering businesses incentives for relocating in the area.
“Several years ago, they started the Rocky Creek District in south Augusta that would offer these tax breaks for businesses out there that hired so many employees and created jobs out there,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, our dealership was located on the wrong side of Gordon Highway to take advantage of the tax districts, but that could really help people to invest out there if they pushed the benefits of it.”
Specifically, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal named Rocky Creek an “opportunity zone” because of recent housing development created in the area.
As a result, businesses located in the area could receive up to a $3,500 per job tax credit against their federal income taxes at the end of the year if the business created at least two full-time jobs.
Just two jobs. That’s not a lot to ask.
Community leaders were hoping this opportunity zone would help attract grocery stores and drugstores to south Augusta.
Back in 2013, Augusta was even recognized by the national organization Smart Growth America for its efforts to revitalize the area with a 2010 Community Challenge grant from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Augusta today is home to many empty storefronts and vacant houses, starting at an empty shopping mall in the Rocky Creek neighborhood and running along Deans Bridge Road up to 15th Street in Cherry Tree,” the organization stated. “The Augusta Sustainable Development Implementation Program is working to transform these struggling neighborhoods and spur economic development in Augusta.”
Five years ago, one of the main objectives of the plan was to address the former Regency Mall site.
“Redeveloping the abandoned Regency Mall into a mixed-use village center with both jobs and housing options is a key part of the project,” Smart Growth America stated. “The area will include basic community services within a short walking distance and existing public housing will be transformed into mixed-income housing inclusive of senior citizens.”
Really? What happened to this plan?
This is the frustrating part about Augusta.
There are so many wonderful plans, but sometimes they never happen.
If the mayor’s office is serious about transforming south Augusta, it needs to push any tax breaks this area could offer new businesses.
It needs to recruit, recruit, recruit.
It needs to meet with the owners of Regency Mall and let them know the arena is not happening, but it’s time for a new plan.
Regency Mall needs a positive plan that will boost the entire area and make the owners money in the process.
That’s the only way this is going to work.
Listen to these former business owners in south Augusta.
They know what they’re talking about.
“There are so many good people in south Augusta,” Jones told the Metro Spirit. “They are proud people who love their community. We need to find some way encourage development out there.”
It’s time for a plan.