Many people in Augusta said the proposed $94 million mixed-use development at the old train depot property on Reynolds Street was never going to happen.
They said an outside developer wouldn’t put that much money into a huge project on Augusta’s riverfront.
Well, Augusta proved its critics wrong last week.
The mayor, Augusta commissioners and community leaders joined representatives from BLOC Global Group, an Alabama development group that specializes in major public-private partnerships, in unveiling plans for a $94 million residential, office and retail project called Riverfront at the Depot.
A video of the project includes a four-story apartment building that will offer about 140 upscale apartment units, about 100,000 square feet of office space and more than 800 parking spots inside a three-level parking deck that opens to the levee.
Right next to the apartment building will be a similar four-story office building that is surrounded by a beautifully designed amphitheater, public green space and a fountain area.
The historic depot building also will be completely renovated and possibly transformed into a restaurant.
Everyone from Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis to Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Margaret Woodard have called this development a “game-changer” for downtown Augusta.
Construction of the $94 million project is expected to begin in the summer of 2019 with approximately $14 million of public support coming from the city.
This is a huge development that wasn’t easy to pull off, especially considering there was quite a bit of controversy leading up to last week’s announcement.
Just this past summer, Augusta Commissioner Sammie Sias shocked city leaders by issuing a news release on July 27 that actually criticized the Alabama developer after commissioners decided to add stipulations in June to the city’s investment in the development of the old deport property.
The developer, Augusta Development LLC, which is part of the BLOC Global Group, specifically objected to the commission’s requirement to fully commit to completing all phases of the project.
In the press release, Sias addressed a letter sent to the city of Augusta from Herschell Hamilton of the of BLOC Global Group.
In his letter this past summer, Hamilton wrote that the commission’s approved restrictions on the financing of the deal have “created an impasse” that jeopardized the entire project.
“This adversarial approach and such actions cannot be interpreted as evidencing the needed trust between the parties; and as a result, our trust is severely diminished,” Hamilton wrote. “We cannot advance this project if our public sector partner continues to act with wanton disregard of the basic protocols of successful partnerships.”
Well, Sias shot right back at Hamilton and an Augusta Chronicle editorial that blasted the commission’s changes to the proposed agreement
“This editorial and the letter from Mr. Hamilton of BLOC Global is a pure insult to the Augusta Commission,” Sias wrote in his July 27 news release. “It seems that many in the private sector believe they can force any crooked or misrepresented deal on the Augusta Commission. Do you really believe that this Commission is that weak or that gullible?”
Sias also pointed out that neither Hamilton nor the Chronicle’s editorial staff have to answer to the taxpayers of Augusta. Sias insisted the commission had no problem providing about $16 million for the construction of the Georgia Cyber Center’s parking deck or entering into a public-private partnership to construct the $30 million Foundry Place residential project in the historic Laney-Walker/Bethlehem area.
Sias also said that the Augusta Commission added those stipulations to the depot project to avoid creating a burden on the city’s general fund.
“The key was seeking the developer’s commitment to building the entire project in one phase, not two, so that the city could avoid that burden. Without that commitment, the city of Augusta would pay over a million dollars a year in debt service for the first three years of the project,” Sias wrote. “If both phases were not constructed at once, over a 20-year period, the city would pay $3.3 million over and above property tax revenues this project would generate.”
Fortunately for the downtown area and the entire community, city leaders and the Alabama developer were able to eventually kiss and make up.
The two parties resolved their differences, and now the future of downtown Augusta looks very bright.
After all, with the addition of this new $94 million development on one end of Reynolds Street and the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center on the other, it looks like downtown Augusta is really turning a corner.
Let’s keep that momentum going.