“They (Meybohm Development Group) did not exercise the option on Phase 2. That happened May 3rd. That doesn’t mean they’re completely out, it means that they didn’t exercise the option at that time.”
Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson
The Plaza at Evans Towne Center, the planned development being erected across the street from the Evans Town Center Park, is a public/private partnership between the county and the Meybohm Development Group, which was announced in February of 2016.
The initial building of the planned “downtown Evans” opened last September and represents the first of three Meybohm committed to erect as a part of the working agreement reached with the Development Authority.
The beautiful 56,000 square foot structure now stands at the entrance to the Plaza, on newly constructed roads leading to the $32 million Performing Arts Center rising from the flat earth.
Yet the only tenant in the Meybohm Building almost a year after the ribbon cutting is Meybohm Real Estate, whose name is etched in stone on the face of the modern industrial steel building facing the Lady A Amphitheater.
The lack of tenants in the modern industrial steel building has surprised many observers.
The county, by way of the Development Authority, donated the land valued at $1.2 million dollars to Meybohm. In return, the company agreed to install the infrastructure surrounding the building, deeding the property back to the county upon completion.
As intended, the land swap turned out to be a wash for the county, with the improvements being roughly the same cost as the donated land.
The concept is fairly new, according to Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson, and allowed Meybohm to limit their tax liability to only the vertical construction of the actual building, as opposed to the entire 8 acres.
Meybohm Development Group had an option on land for Phase Two of the Plaza project, which wraps around the site of the parking deck soon to be built. “There had been talk of a hotel and restaurant being interested, according to Johnson, yet Meybohm did not exercise their option on the property, letting it expire May 3rd.
“That doesn’t mean they’re completely out, it means that they didn’t exercise the option at that time,” Johnson said.
The County Administrator stresses the partnership with Meybohm is still strong, yet it appears there is beginning to be some fluidity to the project.
Optimism was high when the partnership was announced. “This is an exciting opportunity for Columbia County,” said Development Authority Chairman, Hugh Hollar in 2016. “The development of The Plaza will transform the Evans landscape and provide many unique opportunities to the citizens on a level we have never seen before in our area.”
Johnson addressed the project this week with the Metro Spirit. “I think something that may be playing into this a little bit is when we first started this with Meybohm, they were talking to some of the Cyber folks, they had some people really interested in professional use.”
That was before the Georgia Cyber Center in downtown Augusta was announced.
“All of a sudden out-of-left-field you see the state go downtown and build the whole Cyber Center,” Johnson said.
“When you’re building something expecting those types of tenants to be in your building-and you don’t even see this on the radar-then all of a sudden it pops up and it gets built, that’s tough,” Johnson said.
“That’s like saying ‘I’m going to open up a restaurant over here on this part of town because there are not restaurants over here,’” Johnson explained, “and the next thing you know the government comes in and builds five restaurants right around you.’
“Then you’re on the hook to build your restaurant, and it’s like ‘well shoot,’ ” said Johnson.
This opens up the plan to more collaboration, according to Johnson.
“At this point we would love to see someone else’s ideas of what downtown needs to look like. I think the vision is still relatively the same, I don’t see us letting anyone vary too far from what was originally planned.”
Johnson says the county plans to ask any potential developer who onboards moving forward what they plan to charge to lease space. “If someone came in tomorrow and said they would like to build this kind of building, we want this retail and this restaurant, that would be a question we would ask,” Johnson said.
“We have to depend on private developers to be able to come in and be able to build and be able to rent it out, and at a reasonable rate,” Johnson added.
The county now will be discussing how to move forward with the project. There may be talks regarding a right of first refusal for Meybohm if another developer comes in with a desire to continue the project.
“We want the downtown to be vibrant mom and pop stores,” Johnson said, “ice cream shops and restaurants. That’s what everyone wants.”