From the notebook of business editor Tim Rausch

Carolina bank to bring branches into Augusta

The local banking market seems to get more interesting every day, what with all the start up activity and the holding companies deciding to venture outside their established markets into new territory.

The latest news is that Columbia-based First Citizens Bank and Trust Co. is about to expand into the Augusta market by acquiring at least two branch offices, both former Wachovia-SouthTrust properties, on Walton Way Extension and Flowing Wells Road.

The $5 billion bank, predominantly a South Carolina institution, has branch offices in Aiken, Warren and McDuffie counties, but none in the more urbanized area of Richmond and Columbia counties. The “official” announcement is pending.

BUILDING GOODWILL: St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church might soon have a buyer for its old Pleasant Home Road property that has been on the market for four years. The likely new owner would be Goodwill Industries, which is under contract to purchase the site, which straddles the Richmond-Columbia county line in west Augusta.

The church and Goodwill confirmed last week that they are working toward a deal that could close within five months. Goodwill won’t yet disclose its plans for the property, but people in the know say it will be some sort of school/training center that will fit in with the nonprofit’s mission to provide education, training and career services to the needy.

For now, Goodwill – which is best known for its thrift stores, where you can find great clothes for Halloween costumes – is doing “due di ligence” on the property to see whether its plans for the site would conform with planning and zoning regulations.

St. Teresa, whose membership has swelled from 400 families to more than 1,500, moved from the Pleasant Home Road site to Columbia Road so the Catholic Church could have a Columbia County presence. It is still the county’s only Catholic c hurch.

MUSICAL DEALERSHIPS: Someone I thought would have been interested in the St. Teresa property was its next-door neighbors, the Augusta Suzuki dealership. Last year, the dealership, formerly known as Augusta Lincoln-Mercury, agreed to swap the Ford-affiliated brands with Bobby Jones Ford in exchange for its Suzuki franchise. The swap was supposed to occur earlier in the year, but the change didn’t happen until recently .
The folks at Bobby Jones Ford say the Lincoln-Mercury sign will be up at the Wrightsboro Road dealership sometime later this month.

SIT ON IT: If you’re a facilities management executive in the Augusta area, there’s a good chance you’ve received a sales call recently from Richard Kalb.

He’s the local point man for Columbia -based McWaters Inc., an office-furniture distributor planning to build an office and warehouse facility in west Augusta just off the Interstate 20 frontage road. The company is working out of temporary space in the Interstate West Office Park while Kuhlke Construction builds its facility, which, incidentally, is right next to the offices of Kuhlke Construction. How convenient.

Family-owned McWaters, which has stores in Columbia and in Savannah, Ga., is a distributor of the Steelcase brand, which is regarded in the industry as the Cadillac of office furniture (Did I really just say Cadillac of office furniture?). Steelcase hasn’t had a dealer in the Augusta area since Ivan Allen dropped it a couple of years ago, so it appears the McWaters folks are in the right place at the right time.

XETHANOL UPDATE: Not long after I suggested there might be problems with Xethanol Corp.’s planned ethanol plant in east Augusta – and how the company would not respond to our queries about the project status – the mayor’s office sent over a telephone number for Richard Wilson, a Xethanol executive.

We called the number, and the person who answered was an elderly woman who didn’t know a Richard Wilson. We re dialed the number twice just to make sure we had it right.

Plans for a fourth dialing were canceled after the third call made the woman angry.

Just to refresh your memory, Xethanol ( pronounced ZETH-a-nall) is the company that bought the former Pfizer plant with plans to convert it into an ethanol refinery by the end of the year. So far, the only activity there has been trucks carting off scrap metal and expensive equipment that apparently is not needed to operate a refinery.

The only person connected to New York-based Xethanol whom we’ve been able to reach is the account representative at its public relations firm. The rep said recently that all he knew about the plant was that demolition was under way but was taking longer than planned.

I’m glad we haven’t offered these folks a tax break yet.

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