Posted July 2, 2007 11:59 am

Village Plaza Mexican standoff continues

I had to chuckle this week when driving down Bobby Jones Expressway.

No, I didn’t see one of those $750 Oldsmobuicks with the gigantic $3,000 rims . I just happened to glance at the Village Plaza shopping center.

The $17 million worth of improvements that the owner, U.S. Properties Group, is making to the retail strip anchored by Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club appear to (not so conspicuously) end where the Sportsman’s Link storefront begins.

Anyone who has been following this sordid little story knows that the sporting goods retailer is the only thing standing in the way of the owner’s plans to relocate Sam’s Club – which caps off the south end of the center – into the interior so it will be out of the way of the Interstate 20 interchange project.*

Sportsman’s Link owner Sohail Abdulla has a very cheap, long-term lease on the property that he secured when the center was hard up for tenants.

He’s made it clear he has no plans to move out, regardless of the Columbus, Ohio-based real estate company’s desire to build a Sam’s Club on the space on which he, and the adjacent Tractor Supply Co., sit.

Based on the façade improvements ending at Mr. Abdulla’s space, it’s clear that U.S. Properties Group’s plans for the center do not include it’s third-largest tenant.

With competing warehouse retailer Costco eyeing Augusta, the Sam’s Club folks must be getting pretty antsy for new real estate.

If they can’t move a few 100 feet to the north pretty soon, they might just move outside the shopping center altogether.
The clock is ticking.

WHERE THE SIDEWALK, ER, CURVY WALL ENDS: The (dare I say, David v s. Goliath?) struggle going on between Sportsman’s Link and U.S. Properties Group reminds me of a similar situation that played out downtown a few years back.

It started around 1996, when Georgia notified about two dozen property owners along Reynolds Street that it wanted their riverfront property to build something called the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.

Appraisers determined the “fair market value” of the properties, and within a couple of years acquired all the parcels – except Mildred Goolsby’s, the owner of the corner lot at Reynolds and 13th streets.

The property was home to her Mildred’s Riverwatch Convenience Store, one of the busiest lottery ticket sellers in the state because of its proximity to South Carolina, which at the time didn’t have a lottery.

The state built the Hall of Fame’s botanical gardens and serpentine wall right up to the back of Ms. Goolsby’s property where customers used to park. But she didn’t budge.

People (the kind of people who don’t buy lottery tickets) poked fun at the sad little store sitting next to one of the prettiest sites in the city. Still, she didn’t budge.

The Hall of Fame’s backers made it clear they wanted her out, but they were never willing to pay her price.

Years went on and the lottery store was eventually done in by both the lack of parking and, more important , the adoption of a South Carolina state lottery.

The store, which is now owned by Ms. Goolsby’s son, Rick, has since been rented out to whatever business could shoehorn itself into the 1/16-acre corner lot.

It’s occupied by a title-pawn store, which, sadly, sees more action than the botanical gardens ever did, mainly because the actual Golf Hall of Fame building that was supposed to draw people in was never built. That in itself is perhaps the biggest tragedy in Augusta’s downtown revitalization efforts.

I don’t know who won this real estate showdown. Both sides took their lumps.

About all you can say is that Ms. Goolsby’s old building is still standing, and the Golf Hall of Fame never got off the ground.

ON A MORE POSITIVE NOTE: This past week has been a good one for downtown Augusta.

The local owners of the JB White building, eight years after buying it, sold it to somebody willing to finish renovating the four-level department store into apartments and condominiums.

The acquisition and planned renovation (let’s hope it doesn’t take eight more years) will leave downtown with one
less “white elephant.” Just a few more to go!

The other big development is that the drive to create a downtown “business improvement district” is all but approved now that proponents were able to reach an agreement with downtown’s largest property owner, Morris Communications Co. LLC and its affiliate companies, including the owner of this newspaper.

The district, known as a BID, allows property owners, through a self-imposed tax hike, to fund additional services such as security and maintenance within the district’s boundaries.

That means city workers will be tearing up the flower beds on Broad Street every two weeks instead of every three. Watch out for those orange traffic

MEANWHILE, OUT IN THE ’BURBS: Is it conceivable that Wal-Mart would want to build another store in the Augusta area? Of course it is; there are still plenty of other stores that haven’t been put out of business yet.

This time Big Blue is reportedly eyeing the Grovetown section of Columbia County. County officials confirm they have been contacted by people asking, on behalf of Wal-Mart, for documentation on sign ordinances that pertain to the area around the I-20 Lewiston Road exit.

There’s plenty of undeveloped land over there to plop down a Wal-Mart and the obligatory dry cleaner, video store, Chinese restaurant and Vietnamese nail salon that will set up shop next door.

Before you ask yourself ,“Don’t we have enough of those already?” consider this: a Wal-Mart is like a $3,000 set of rims.
People don’t really need them, but they sure seem to want them.

(*By the way, have you noticed the chain saw carnage around the Spring House and The Traditions at Augusta apartment complexes? Nearly every tree separating the properties from I-20 and Bobby Jones Expressway has been cut down in the past week. Now the only thing separating those residents from a tractor trailer’s jake brake is 1/4 inch drywall and vinyl siding. Hope most of the folks out there are only on six-month leases.)