Lake might get makeover for retail center

Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff
Augusta Canal Authority Chairman Bob Woodhurst talks about plans to dredge Warren Lake to improve storm drainage. The project is also important for the developers of a new shopping center in the area.

Judge Benjamin H. Warren supported efforts to build the Augusta Canal in 1845, contributing his land, workers and a nearby lake that still bears his name.


Today, Warren Lake is wedged between the canal, River Watch Parkway and the cleared site of a mammoth retail complex that will soon occupy its western shore.

It's also fallen on hard times.

"The whole area is completely silted in," said Dayton Sherrouse, the Augusta Canal Authority's director. "No one really knows why, but it's happened fairly quickly - over the last few years."

The lake, covering about 12 acres, once flowed freely into the adjacent canal and offered opportunities for fishing and canoeing.

Now its depth is only a few inches in most places, and its surface is a solid mat of weeds.

The canal authority is hoping to have the lake dredged and restored - a project that could play a crucial role in the Canal Heritage Area's future relationship with the 800,000-square-foot retail center nearby.

It won't be cheap. Official studies haven't been done, but estimates range up to $1 million.

"Dredging this lake isn't just a visual amenity," said canal authority Chairman Bob Woodhurst. "It's also an important improvement to storm drainage in this area."

Recent studies, including those conducted last year by the Army Corps of Engineers, found that better drainage is needed in the River Watch and Interstate 20 areas.

Last year, the corps recommended installing 94 concrete culverts that would drain water along the canal towpath into the Savannah River.

The canal authority, citing the aesthetic misery such a project would create, declined.

Restoring Warren Lake has been under discussion for several years, but the pending construction of Dallas-based MGHerring Group's Village at Riverwatch project has given the authority new reasons to pursue the project.

The developer has agreed to establish an access point in the retail center enabling visitors to enter the canal via Warren Lake, where docks are planned for the Petersburg tour boats.

It will focus more attention - and possibly bring more canal visitors - than ever before.

"There are several reasons this development could end up being a blessing in disguise," Mr. Woodhurst said, noting the exposure and access can only improve the area's visibility and popularity.

Plans for the site include Belk and Dillard's among its anchor stores, movie theaters with 18 screens, scores of retail stores and restaurants, and parking for 4,494 cars.

The canal authority already has arranged the purchase of 18.73 acres from the developer to expand its buffer along the canal and possibly incorporate new bicycle trails.

"We bill our development as a 'lifestyle center,' which means it's not just for shopping," said Gar Herring, the executive vice president of MGHerring Group, the project's lead developer. "We want it to be a place where people want to spend their leisure time. They'll be able to go bicycling, see a movie, lots of things."

The collaborative project with the canal authority will benefit both the development and the canal, he said.

"The way we've designed our parking, there will be plenty of room for people who want to visit the canal or take a boat ride," he said.

Mr. Woodhurst said the authority also is working with Augusta officials to pursue the Warren Lake restoration.

"It will likely require a Corps of Engineers permit," he said, noting that construction involving wetlands triggers compliance with federal regulations.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or