The Augusta medical district is closer to having a Walmart Neighborhood Market, with 11 city-owned parcels that make up the Augusta Public Transit bus depot turned over to the Augusta Land Bank Authority.
Land Bank Authority Director Norman Michaels informed board members at a Thursday work session that the transaction had been completed, based on a Jan. 17 resolution signed by Mayor Deke Copenhaver authorizing the transaction.
The Augusta Commission voted on the measure behind closed doors Jan. 17 and didn’t discuss it in open session because of changes in state open-meetings law permitting a vote to be kept private until a transaction is final, city staff attorney Kenneth Bray said.
Minutes from the Jan. 17 meeting, obtained Thursday by The Augusta Chronicle, offer insight into what developers are proposing for the bus site, which sits near the busy intersection of 15th Street and Walton Way.
In the closed-door meeting, Jim Plunkett, the special counsel for a number of city development projects, told the commission that transferring the property to the land bank allows it to sell the land to a “shell corporation, effectively Walmart,” that will construct a Walmart there, according to the minutes.
The proposed building is a 40,000-square-foot Walmart grocery. The corporation has options on adjoining parcels, some of which might become parcels potentially holding fast-food restaurants, Plunkett said.
The Federal Transit Administration has a lien on the city’s bus land because federal money was used to build the bus depot, so it will have to be paid back about $400,000, he said.
In addition, the state will have to be repaid $50,000 to $100,000 for money it has in the site, so Augusta will make about $30,000 to $40,000, Plunkett said.
The resolution authorized sale of the land for $505,000.
News of the incoming Walmart disturbed the Medical College of Georgia Foundation, which owns the nearby 15th Street Kroger and a small strip mall and had hoped to incorporate the city’s land into what’s called the Harrisburg Blueprint, a master plan for the area developed by a focus group last year.
Tommy Saul, of Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial, the realty firm brokering the deal, said he had worked closely with Copenhaver, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, Michaels and other city officials, in addition to Georgia Health Sciences University officials “to try to do something nice down there that really benefits the city and benefits everybody downtown.”
The site plan is subject to change, but what is anticipated is a Walmart Neighborhood Market, about a fourth or a fifth the size of the largest Walmart Supercenter, he said.
City Administrator Fred Russell said the city would perform any environmental cleanup at the bus maintenance facility, and developers would pay for the work.
Though the city has proposed selling surplus land to raise cash, it did not expect to make money on the Walmart deal – only to provide an additional retail opportunity downtown, Russell said.