Port Royal building exterior work raises concern

 

 

Approval for facade changes to the old Fort Discovery and future home of IT company Unisys was put on hold Thursday to allow for condominium owners on upper floors of the riverfront building to meet with and gather more information from the California-based property owner.

About 10 residents at River Place Condominiums attended the Augusta Historic Preservation Commission with concerns about exterior design changes proposed to the lower portion of the Port Royal building, although some changes have already occurred without receiving necessary approval through the commission. That outdoor work, including removal of bricks and two rear staircases that connected the second-floor terrace to the Augusta Riverwalk, has been ongoing since May.

The full set of changes requested by Southern California businessman and property owner Moshe Silagi includes replacing portions of brick veneer above the parking garage with stucco, installing 15 to 26 windows for natural light and removing the two back staircases to keep people on the Riverwalk from wandering up to the Unisys center.

Initially, the scope of work necessary to prepare the building for Unisys’ new client service center had been limited to the interior, said Richard Fletcher, a lead architect on the project.

However, they ran into unexpected problems after finding moldy drywall inside the building, requiring outside bricks be removed to remediate the mold, said Fletcher, a principal architect at local firm Cheatham, Fletcher, Scott Architects.

“Our work really in the building was confined to the interior,” Fletcher said. “We weren’t planning to change the exterior at all.”

Fletcher said that Silagi is also under a time crunch to prepare the building for Unisys’ new client service center by early fall.

“They’re on a nearly-impossible schedule of having Unisys in the building and working in September,” he said. “There’s literally not a day to waste to meet that schedule. This is work that was not anticipated at the time the contract was let, so this is a discovery that was only made during the course of the work.”

River Place homeowners James Kendrick, Jessica Yu and a handful of neighbors attended the meeting on behalf of the 56 owners who live in the building, asking to be kept in the loop of any work going on and wanting some of the outdoor brick to be added back to the building facade.

“It just would be nice that the project manager would just inform us of what’s going on,” Yu said. “We just have no idea what’s going on.”

The historic preservation commission postponed granting a certificate of appropriateness for the project until Silagi and River Place residents meet.

The former Fort Discovery space was vacant for more than four years until March, when Unisys signed a lease to occupy about 118,000-square feet of the property and create up to 700 jobs over a five-year period. About 30,000 square feet of the building will be available for retail, restaurant or office use, and the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office is planning to operate a substation there.

While the building itself is not historic, it falls within the downtown historic district, requiring that any exterior design changes undergo review by the Augusta Historic Preservation Commission, said Historic Augusta Preservation Services Director Robyn Anderson.

“The guidelines call for design review of even non-contributing buildings just so that something really off-the-wall isn’t done,” she said. “It still tries to maintain some type of semblance.”

“The Port Royal building is just kind of one of those anomalies within our downtown historic district,” Anderson added. “We make it work.”

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