Scuttlebiz: EDTS celebration delights; Lidl stores to open; Fresh Market heads to Evans

Could the grand opening of the new EDTS headquarters go down as the ribbon-cutting event of 2017?

 

I think so.

While much larger developments are on the way – including the state’s cyber innovation center, a new hotel on Broad Street’s 1100 block and the highly anticipated (and secret) neo-urban community at the city-owned “depot” property – none will get the big-scissor treatment this calendar year.

Those projects’ budgets – which each hover at or above the $50 million mark – will dwarf the $6 million EDTS facility in the fledgling Augusta Cyberworks complex. But they’ll lack the joie de vivre of a 19th century cotton warehouse that’s been repurposed to deliver 21st century information technology services along the banks of the 172-year-old Augusta Canal.

The project on the Sixth Street depot property, for example, promises to be a “destination.” But, much like an infant child, it could take years to grow and develop personality.

The yet-to-be-announced hotel on the 1100 block of Broad (not to be confused with the Hyatt House under construction on the 1200 block) is said to be massive. But once the paint dries and the signs go up, it is still just a hotel, right?

The Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center at Augusta University’s Riverfront Campus will draw scores of new people downtown. Of course, time will tell whether the $60 million center becomes a of den of creativity and commerce or just another government building sporting brutalist architecture.

So, right now, I’d say EDTS and Cyberworks deserve the spotlight.

Keep in mind the 32,000-square-foot space for EDTS and its EDTS Cyber affiliate is just a small part of the Cyberworks concept. If the developers, Cape Augusta Digital Properties, get their way, they’ll have more than 1 million square feet at the former Sibley and King mills converted into a tech-centric mixed-use development jacked in to a 20-megawatt data center that is hydroelectrically powered – and simultaneously cooled – by the canal’s flowing waters.

“Back in history, the Augusta Canal really sparked the industrial revolution in Augusta,” EDTS CEO Charles Johnson said at the event. “I really think cyber … is going to be our new Augusta Canal, and it’s fitting that this project is on the canal.”

Johnson is more than a tenant, he’s a Cape Augusta investor. But turning his hometown’s iconic industrial structures into a high-tech business park wasn’t his idea. The credit for that goes to James Ainslie, a South African entrepreneur was an unknown in the Augusta business community just a couple of years ago.

With a techie’s mind, a financier’s swagger and a mug that could get him a gig as Jason Statham’s stunt double, Ainslie is fast becoming one of the city’s most recognizable executives. (His wife Adel, by the way, gets my vote for “best accent” in Augusta.)

Ainslie’s business partner and fellow countryman Wayne Millar, who has been involved in local real estate development for more than a decade, are in the drivers’ seat. The two are relying on private equity funds, federal New Market Tax Credits and historic preservation grants to chip away at the $200 million adaptive reuse project, which calls for 250 market-rate apartments at King Mill.

During his remarks about the gargantuan undertaking, Ainslie quipped that he “perhaps had a tad too much optimism” when he first saw the idle textile mills three years ago.

“When I look at them now, I’m reminded of the adage: ‘How do you eat an elephant?’” he said jokingly. “Fortunately I’m from South Africa and that’s a skill they give us at an early age.”

Combined, Sibley and King are four times the size of Enterprise Mill. So if a metaphorical elephant is to be eaten, then this past week celebrated he first bite. Ainslie’s confident the region’s burgeoning cyber industry will help him clean the plate.

 

CHEW ON THIS: The EDTS grand opening party was quite the place to be on a late Tuesday afternoon. I don’t think every banker in town was there, but it sure seemed like it. Political figures, including State Rep. Mark Newton, and former political figures, including former State Sen. Charles Walker, also were abundant.

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen said Fort Gordon’s cyberific expansion has made his Beltway colleagues “very envious” of Georgia’s 12th congressional district. And Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis said the high-tech infusion gives the city an “opportunity to step into this age of innovation and technology.”

Later, near the shrimp cocktail buffet boat, Davis and I had a candid discussion about his support for building a new James Brown Arena at the former Regency Mall site, something that is contrary to consultant recommendations and a “silent majority” of business leaders who think the most logical place for a 10,000-plus seat arena is in downtown’s entertainment district.

If you read Scuttlebiz last week, you know my stance: A venue dependent upon regional – repeat, regional – consumers will not survive at the Regency site, no matter how much we might want it to.

I won’t divulge details of my off-the-record conversation with Davis. But I will say that neither the conversation nor his press conference the following day swayed my opinion.

 

AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR, UM, SPONSORS?: SRP Federal Credit Union this year announced a sponsorship deal with James Brown Arena’s operator, Spectra, giving it branding rights to one of the largest advertising spaces available – the box office.

I asked the credit union executive who oversees such matters if SRP would continue its sponsorship if the arena moves out of downtown. I’m still waiting on a reply.

Perhaps SRP is too busy working on finalizing its naming deal for the new Augusta GreenJackets stadium in North Augusta. When the 4,500-seat baseball stadium opens next spring, it will be known as SRP Park.

The team’s owners originally wanted the stadium in downtown Augusta. When some city leaders balked, the team simply took their game across the river. Same latitude, different attitudes.

I wonder if North Augusta has any space left to house a regional arena.

 

MARKET ON THE MOVE: You heard it here first: The Fresh Market is opening a store in Evans.

Following its usual M.O., the North Carolina-based grocer will not comment on its store headed to the Belk-anchored Mullins Crossing “phase II” shopping center, which is under construction near the intersection of Washington Road and River Watch Parkway.

The upscale supermarket also will not comment on whether its current store in the National Hills Shopping Center will close. National Hills has had access challenges since Berckmans Road’s realignment two years ago.

A few months ago, the retailer told me there were no plans to close the 23,000-square-foot National Hills store. Its latest reply, however, skirts the issue entirely.

“In order to provide more flexibility in developing the company’s long-term growth strategy, The Fresh Market has re-evaluated the timing of its new store opening announcements,” the company said via email. “The Fresh Market is continuously reviewing its investment priorities, which often results in shifting opening dates. As such, the company does not plan on projecting or speculating on specific store opening timing prior to construction start.”

The company has several years left on its National Hills lease. But that doesn’t mean anything; most retailers, including the recently departed Whole Foods, would rather pay rent for an empty space than occupying it and operate at a loss.

 

READY FOR A LITTLE LIDL?: Two years after scouting local real estate and two weeks before opening its doors, Lidl is finally ready to say “Hallo.”

The German-based discount grocery store – a European Trader Joe’s, if you will – will open its Augusta store at 1096 Alexander Drive on Sept. 14, and its North Augusta store at 417 East Martintown Road on Sept. 21. The Augusta market, just across the street from the Kroger a par-5 from the National Hills’ Fresh Market, is Lidl’s first store in Georgia.

Both Lidls will open at 8 a.m. after a ribbon-cutting ceremony in which the first 100 customers receive a “wooden coin” giving them a shot at up to $100 in Lidl gift cards. Customers also will get product samples and a complimentary reusable bag – while supplies last, of course.

The 20,000-square-foot stores are supposed to make shopping uber-easy by having merchandise across only six aisles.

 

GETTING A COMPLEX: With millenials taking longer to buy homes, investors nationwide have been on an apartment complex buying spree – even here in metro Augusta.

One of the latest multifamily transactions was the July 7 sale of the 182-unit Woodhill apartment community off Jackson Road in west Augusta. New York- based real estate investment firm JEM Holdings acquired the 30-year old property from Intermark Management and King Management for $15 million, according to Cushman &Wakefield’s southeast multifamily group.

“We’re bullish on the market’s population growth and the significant attention the city has garnered for its emphasis on promoting the health care, high-tech and cybersecurity industries,” JEM Holdings Director Jessica Saks said in a statement.

Cushman &Wakefield, the region’s No. 1 multifamily property broker, said its sales have increased 63 percent during the past five years.

 

THE SHOW MUST GO ON (AND ON, AND ON): It was supposed to take four years to build Plant Vogtle’s units 1 and 2. It took 13. The price tag was supposed to be just under $1 billion. The final bill was nine times that.

But. bottom line, those two commercial reactors have been turning out reliable, low-cost and emission-free electricity for Georgia Power and its three other co-owners since the late 1980s. And they’ll continue doing that under federal licenses that won’t expire until 2047 and 2049 at the earliest.

The efficiency of those reactors are a big reason why Georgians pay 9 percent less per kilowatt hour than the rest of the nation, and why Georgia Power’s parent, Southern Co., is among the nation’s largest investor-owned utilities.

Vogtle’s three-decade track record, as much as anything else, explains why Georgia Power this past week said it plans to continue construction on the beleaguered units 3 and 4 – units the company said in 2008 said would be operational by now at a cost of $14.3 billion. The start-up dates are now 2021 and 2022, and the total estimated price tag is $25.2 billion.

To say there’s been some horrendous project management is an understatement.

The 3 and 4 delays are nothing to be proud of. But when you look at them in the historical context of units 1 and 2 (something that nobody seems to do but me), the overruns are…well, nothing to commit hari-kari over.

Despite the Sugar Ray-like beating Vogtle’s owners have taken, they’ve yet to say “no mas,” unlike their counterparts in South Carolina who threw in the towel on two new units at the V.C. Summer plant. Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers said in a statement that the new units “will be in service for 60 to 80 years and will add another low-cost, carbon-free energy source to our already diverse fuel mix.”

Rep. Allen’s statement this past week noted Vogtle employs nearly 6,000 throughout his district, and that he was thankful this region “continues to be at the forefront of nuclear energy expansion in the United States.”

The ultimate say-so in the matter is Georgia’s utility regulator, the Public Service Commission, which is making a six-month review of the project.

If there’s a “point of no return” on this project, I would think it is rapidly approaching.

 

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

 

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