Posted March 20, 2007 02:02 pm - Updated March 20, 2007 02:05 pm

Will success breed big crowds?

Most people seem to like it when Augusta places high on those national “best places” type of lists that come out every once in a while. Me, I get a twinge in the gut. It happened a couple of weeks ago when Augusta was named the nation’s most affordable housing market by a national publisher of business journals that had analyzed income and housing price data for 95 metro areas larger than 500,000 people. It also happened last summer when The Wall Street Journal wrote a mostly positive piece on how the market’s high quality-of-life and low costs made it an under-the-radar draw for retirees. Call me kooky, but sometimes I wonder if all this national attention does more harm than good – the problem with being known as a great place to live is everybody wants to live there. Could our 20-minute drive from the suburbs turn into an hour’s commute? Could condominiums and estate homes filled with New Jersey transplants occupy every last tract along our serene lakes and rivers? Could our own home and land prices exceed our children’s ability to afford them? (Home prices in Augusta, by the way, are already rising faster than the averages for the U.S., Georgia and South Carolina. Check the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight report at for the latest data.) If brisk population growth is in our near future, at least there’s an upside. Some people around here will make a bunch of money selling condos, Cadillacs and catheters to all the newcomers. If those folks are lucky enough, they’ll make enough money to retire and move away from Augusta to some nice, mid size city – you know, the kind of place with a good “quality of life.” IT WON’T HAPPEN THIS YEAR: If the area is poised to become a major metropolis, 2007 probably won’t be the catalyst year. Sources in the local construction industry say housing inventory (that’s unsold houses to you and me) is pretty high right now compared with this time in 2006 and really high compared with 2005. Although we are by no means in a housing market recession – especially compared with the rest of the nation – activity is definitely slowing. That means you can expect to see fewer job opportunities in construction during the coming months (unless you’re an illegal immigrant, of course). The hammer-swing ers will be thinned even more starting in 2008 when Georgia begins requiring contractors to undergo licensing. The rules, which mandate certain levels of insurance and bonding, are expected to drive out most of the fly-by-nighters and jacklegs who jumped in the market a few years ago. Maybe they can try their hand at customer service – I hear the call centers are hiring. SO ARE THE BURGER JOINTS: Red Robin Gourmet Burgers said it is hiring more than 100 new “team members” for the restaurant in Evans it is scheduled to open next month. If you want a job, call them at (706) 566-1330. SCRUB A DUB: If you get hired there and end up on floor-cleaning duty using one of those motorized buffer thingees, take comfort in the fact that the abrasive pad on the bottom was likely made in Wrens by the Glit/Microtron factory. The Jefferson County plant could be gearing up to make more of those pads because the company recently applied for a permit with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to install a “new nylon production and coating line” and inject its wastewater into a “thermal oxidizer.” I don’t know what that means, but it sounds pretty cool. SOMETHING ELSE THAT’S COOL: I received a letter from Nelson Danish, of Waynesboro, who found an error in Scuttlebiz two weeks ago. He noticed I used the wrong address when I referred to The Bee Hive bar/restaurant project as the “gutted, four-story building at 970 Broad St. with the plywood facade.” Let the record reflect I should have said the “gutted, four-story building at 972 Broad St. with the plywood facade.” Scuttlebiz regrets the error. Mr. Danish said the building belonged to his family (which included Cohens and Antopolskys) from the 1920s until they sold it to the current owners a couple years ago. He said some Augusta residents will remember The Bee Hive as a general dry goods store, selling everything from “men’s celluloid collars to ladies’ hats, silk corsages, material and hatpins.” It was a children’s clothing store when it closed in 1979. Another interesting factoid, Mr. Danish points out, is that the building was built in 1916 on what was once Butler’s Alley, which ran from Ellis to Broad streets. If you go into the Still Water Tap Room at 974 Broad St. and look at the east wall, you can see a bricked-up window that once looked out on the alley. Mr. Danish, thanks for the correction – and the history lesson. CHANGING COURSE, PART DEUX: A couple of weeks ago the developers of the upscale Village at Riverwatch “lifestyle center” project announced their all-retail concept has been tweaked to include non retail components such as a hotel and possibly even a public exhibition center. Scuttlebiz last week surmised the decision was made because the lion’s share of potential tenants had already committed to other lifestyle center projects, namely the one under construction at Augusta Mall. That hypothesis is sounding more sound all the time. News came out last week that the developer of another local lifestyle center project, Atlanta-based Forum Development Group, is nixing some of the retail it had planned to build near the intersection of Walton Way Extension and Interstate 20 in favor of homes and office space. The city’s population is moving away from Augusta Mall . The stores apparently are not. WHEN IN THE LOWCOUNTRY: Last, if you happen to be walking the romantic streets of historic downtown Charleston, S.C., with your better half , make a stop at The French Hare Gallery and Galleria at 418 King St. It’s owned by former Evans-area resident and photographer Susan Lucas. I’m sure she would appreciate hearing about how affordable houses are in Augusta.