$32 million apartment development hoped to draw AU growth toward Bethlehem

Jake von Trapp, a partner with Atlanta-based Columbia Ventures, describes the development footprint of a new city-financed apartment complex in the Bethlehem community Friday at Augusta Municipal Building. Susan McCord/The Augusta Chronicle

A city apartment development intended to capitalize on nearby Augusta University will generate “more interest on our side of the tracks” as the fourth node of city redevelopment of the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem communities, a partner with the development firm said.

 

Atlanta-based Columbia Ventures specializes in public-private partnerships, including those adjacent to railroads and rapid transit, and is studying noise, vibration and traffic issues associated with the CSX line that borders the property, said Columbia partner Jake von Trapp.

The complex’s first phase of 221 units of one- to three-bedroom units plus about 4,000 square feet of retail space is planned for a 7.6-acre tract bordered by Railroad Avenue and Wrightsboro Road where it intersects with R.A. Dent Boulevard, across R.A. Dent and the railroad from the new AU dorms and dental school.

Known as Foundry Place, the complex’s proposed market-rate monthly rents - around $900 - have prompted questions from commissioners about affordable housing for the area’s working poor.

The area’s original residents “are being pushed further and further south,” Commissioner Marion Williams said. “That bothers me.”

But the development is only “a component” of the area’s larger redevelopment effort, said Columbia partner Dillon Baynes.

Nearby are the mixed-income Walton Green apartments under development by Augusta Housing Authority at the former Cherry Tree Crossing public housing project; further east are the market-rate Pine Street homes as well as additional housing developments built through partnerships between the city and housing authority.

City Housing and Community Development Director Hawthorne Welcher said efforts to attract retail, such as a grocery store, aren’t aided by average incomes in the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem area of $24,000, while Foundry Place will target workers within a two- or three-mile radius.

Commissioner Ben Hasan, who questioned when the project changed from mixed-income to market-rate apartments, said after the meeting he is satisfied with the deal as proposed. “I think it’s in a good place now,” he said.

The deal was facilitated by the Augusta Regional Collaboration, a firm founded by former mayor Deke Copenhaver. According to a memorandum of understanding signed by Mayor Hardie Davis two years ago, ARC gets a fee of 1.75 percent of the total project cost – which Welcher said is about $32 million.

The city’s Urban Development Agency, which heard Columbia Venture’s presentation Friday, is expected to issue about $26 million in bonds to finance the project. Eventually Columbia will sell the complex, URA Chairman Bob Young said, although Haynes said Columbia considers it a medium- to long-term “hold” for the company.

The historically black Laney-Walker and Bethlehem communities were designated $37.5 million in tourism fees over 50 years in a 2009 Augusta Commission deal to secure votes to move forward with construction of Augusta Convention Center.

URA attorney Jim Plunkett said he’d circulate a proposal for members to review ahead of a meeting Tuesday where they could vote on whether to proceed with the company.

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

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