Augusta economic developers approve more than $940 million in bonds

Doctors Hospital was one of five companies receiving approval for industrial revenue bonds on Thursday by the Richmond County Development Authority. FILE/STAFF

The Development Authority of Richmond County on Thursday approved $940 million worth of industrial revenue bonds and bond proposals, which officials said would help five major employers – including Doctors Hospital and FedEx – expand local operations.

 

The largest of the five bond issues was $672.5 million for an existing industry identified only as “Project Beam.” Corporate identities are generally kept secret until bonds receive final approval from the authority.

Authority attorney Robert Hagler said the bond would fund the company’s multiyear expansion project, mainly equipment purchases.

“A lot of the investment would be made during the first few years … of the project,” he said.

Two of the bond issues were for previously announced economic development projects: the $130 million addition of a coffee-roasting facility at Augusta’s Starbucks plant and the $100 million expansion of Doctors Hospital’s emergency room and main hospital buildings.

The other two included a $30 million bond for International Paper to improve its wastewater systems and $8.5 million for a FedEx-affiliated developer to relocate the delivery company’s downtown distribution center to an industrial park near the intersection of Tobacco Road and Mike Padgett Highway.

Authority Executive Director Walter Sprouse, whose retirement was announced at the end of the meeting’s closed-door legal session, said the bonds’ dollar value represented a “record” amount for a single day.

The “inducement resolutions” enable corporations to seek bond financing under attractive terms using the development authority as a conduit. The bonds – which obligate the borrower, not the county or its taxpayers – are primarily used as economic development incentives to attract new industry and entice existing industry to expand.

Doctors Hospital CEO Doug Welch said at the meeting that $20 million of its financing is earmarked for an emergency room expansion.

“When I arrived here five years ago, we saw about 40,000 people annually in our ER, and this year we’ll see over 70,000 people,” he said. “That shows you the amount of growth and need for ER services in our community.”

The remainder would pay for a “bed tower expansion” that would convert two-patient, or “semi-private,” rooms to private rooms.

The $8.5 million bond for Alabama-based Westmoreland Co. Inc. would finance the relocation of FedEx’s freight operations in downtown Augusta – at the corner of 12th and Fenwick streets – to a new facility in the Forward Augusta Richmond County Industrial Park.

The FedEx resolution also included giving the company access to 4.1 acres of county-owned land in the industrial park for additional truck parking.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

 

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