Walmart interested in property off 15th Street in Augusta's medical district

The city of Augusta has been in negotiations with a Walmart developer interested in the Augusta Public Transit facility at Fenwick and 15th streets for about a year, City Administrator Fred Russell confirmed Tuesday.

The Walmart, a smaller, 40,000-square-foot “boutique” version with a focus on food and possibly pharmacy items, would ensure the neighborhood retains a grocery in the event the nearby Kroger closes, Russell said.

The Walmart developer who approached the city has begun obtaining adjoining parcels because the store would require more land than the city transit property, he said.

At the prospective site, located in the congested area at Fifteenth Street and Walton Way in the heart of the city’s medical district, Walmart’s concern has been “access to Walton Way,” Russell said.

The city bus barn — now the headquarters of Mobility Transit, the private firm that took over management of Augusta Public Transit last year — occupies approximately 3½ acres at 1535 Fenwick St. The tract is bounded by Fenwick Street, Wall Street and Chafee Avenue.

Immediately south and east of the tract are a Rite Aid, a Pizza Hut and a small motel.

The city has previously announced plans to move its buses in with Richmond County school buses at a new facility recently constructed in south Augusta.

The sale, based on the sites’ appraised value, won’t be enough to cover the year’s budget shortfall, Russell said.

According to property records, the largest city parcel in the tract was assessed at $972,682. About $866,177 of that is buildings that likely would be demolished, including a bus wash and transit office building constructed in 1994.

The site adjoins the 15th Street Kroger bequeathed to the Medical College of Georgia Foundation in 1997. Kroger is the only food store within walking distance for many impoverished and disabled Harrisburg and downtown residents, while Georgia Health Sciences University uses its parking lot for overflow parking.

According to previous Augusta Chronicle reports, Kroger leased the store from the foundation for 20 years around the time of the donation.

Russell said he knew of no timeline for the Walmart project.

Walter Sprouse, the executive director of the Development Authority of Richmond County, said Monday that he is not directly involved in discussions about the property, but said he had provided information about the area to Walmart, including the proximity of six hospitals and two major interchanges — John Calhoun Expressway and 15th Street, and Walton Way and 15th Street — as well as per-capita income and population counts.

Walmart’s Web site says the smaller stores “offer added convenience while holding the line on Walmart’s everyday low prices.”

Last month, Walmart said it was planning to build a 152,000-square-foot supercenter on Wrightsboro Road near North Leg early next year, according to company spokesman Glen Wilkins.

The store will be in the Forest Hills Shopping Center, near Baldinos. It will be smaller than most of the Walmart stores in the area and will not have an auto care center or a gas station.

Wilkins told The Chronicle the project would create up to 300 jobs, most of which would be full-time positions.

“We saw this as an area with dense population and an opportunity to better serve our customers,” he said.

Calls to Walmart regarding the downtown store have not been returned.

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