Land-clearing opens work on Village at Riverwatch

The Village at Riverwatch is showing signs of life.

Lumber crews have begun clearing 100 acres to make way for the $150 million shopping complex scheduled to open at the intersection of River Watch Parkway and Interstate 20 in fall 2007.

"They're up there clearing all the trees so we can get the bulldozers moving," said Gar Herring, the executive vice president of Dallas-based MGHerring Group, the project's lead developer.

About 100 acres of the 132-acre site will be cleared for the 800,000-square foot center that will feature an open-air layout with more than 100 specialty shops and restaurants. Trees that won't be cleared out include those along a buffer zone between the development and the adjacent Augusta Canal.

The Augusta Canal Authority plans to purchase 18 acres along the canal by April 28 for $250,000, Executive Director Dayton Sherrouse said.

"We've been working with them for probably two years on trying to make sure the development causes a minimum impact on the canal," he said. "We've been very pleased with the reception we've gotten from them."

Actual brick-and-mortar construction is expected to begin during the fall, Mr. Herring said.

The center's tenants so far include anchor department stores Belk and Dillard's, a Barnes & Noble bookstore and an 18-screen Starplex Cinemas Inc. theater.

The Starplex theater would be the Dallas-based chain's first in the state. MGHerring Group had proposed a Movie Tavern, a restaurant/theater chain also owned by Starplex, but later decided the project could not support two theaters.

The Village at Riverwatch is modeled after MGHerring's successful Eastern Shores Centre development that opened in 2004 in Spanish Fort, Ala.

Eastern Shores, like the proposed Village at Riverwatch, has a Belk, Dillard's and Barnes & Noble. The 600,000-square-foot center's other tenants include Talbots, Pottery Barn, Ann Taylor Loft and Coldwater Creek.

Other tenants for the Village at Riverwatch likely will be announced during the summer, Mr. Herring said.

Other partners in the project are Charlotte-based Commercial Resources Group and Atlanta-based Stephens Property Group.

The developers purchased the property in February for $8.9 million.

Reach Tony Lombardo at (706) 823-3227 or tony.lombardo@augustachronicle.com.

Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff An aerial view shows the parcel of land being cleared for The Village at Riverwatch. River Watch Parkway is at the top and Interstate 20 on the right, with the Savannah River at the bottom. About 100 acres of the 132-acre site will be cleared. [CAPTION]

Lee Hammonds looks over a section of cleared land. The brick-and-mortar construction of the shopping center probably will start in the fall.

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