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Empty buildings downtown remain impediment to growth

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To the west of James Brown Boulevard on Broad Street is a lively retail district tightly packed with small shops, restaurants and nightclubs. To the east, it’s quieter. For every two stores that are occupied, one is vacant. Twenty-two percent of Augusta’s downtown buildings and storefronts are unoccupied, according to an audit performed by the Downtown Development Authority in March. The survey, performed at the request of The Augusta Chronicle, covers Broad Street from Fifth to 13th streets and the cross streets from Ellis to Reynolds.

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Bryan Haltermann, of Haltermann Partners, poses in front of a building he bought and is renovating on the corner of Broad and Monument streets. Buildings won't sell or rent if they're not fixed, he says.  RAINIER EHRHARDT/STAFF
RAINIER EHRHARDT/STAFF
Bryan Haltermann, of Haltermann Partners, poses in front of a building he bought and is renovating on the corner of Broad and Monument streets. Buildings won't sell or rent if they're not fixed, he says.

Separate upper Broad from lower Broad, and the picture becomes even more striking. Only 1 in 8 storefronts west of James Brown Boulevard is vacant. To the east the rate is 1 in 3.

Urban redevelopment theory says the empty buildings discourage shoppers by creating a sense of neglect and deterioration, attracting criminal activity and increasing health risks. Among five shop owners interviewed, three to the east of James Brown Boulevard said they considered crime an impediment to their businesses. Two to the west said it was not.

Augusta, like most U.S. cities, lost its downtown retail beginning in the late 1970s when malls opened in the urban outskirts. Urban redevelopment has since restored parts of downtown Augusta, but in other places whole blocks remain stubbornly blighted.

The difficulty of filling the vacant buildings today, according to downtown stakeholders, lies with owners and architecture.

“You have to look at the condition of the buildings,” said Margaret Woodard, the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. “You have to look at sales price and the condition.”

Christopher Bailey, who purchased and renovated the building that became the 100-seat Le Chat Noir theater, said his partners looked on Broad Street first, then settled on their spot at Eighth and Ellis streets.

“They think their buildings are made of gold, and they’re falling apart,” he said of Broad Street. “This was perfect for the amount of money we had to spend. It was what we could afford.”

Developer Bryan Haltermann buys, restores and rents old downtown buildings, usually by remodeling upper floors for apartments and the first floor for retail. There is demand for such redevelopment, he said, but buildings won’t sell or rent if they are not fixed.

“There’s a category of downtown building owners who haven’t invested in their buildings. So, they have obsolete utility systems and finishes that need to be redone,” he said. “It’s much harder to rent that kind of space.”

A second factor affecting whether a building is likely to sell or rent is its architecture. That’s why the redevelopment landscape changes at James Brown Boulevard, according to Woodard and Haltermann.

Buildings on upper Broad belong to an older, pre-World War I architecture. Owners built a store on the first floor, an office on the second and an apartment on the third. Those lend themselves easily to mixed-use redevelopment. Buildings east of James Brown Boulevard were built later.

“Instead of small shops, you have a lot more single-use buildings: department stores, movie theaters, office buildings, big furniture stores,” Haltermann said. “Some of these fall into the category of white elephant. It’s a lot harder to find a use and lot more expensive and riskier to invest in those buildings.”

Farther east, in Broad’s 500 block, the landscape changes again, back to the older-style buildings. At 566 Broad, Haltermann recently bought a long-empty building.

Situated in an area known for having strip joints or, as Halterman puts it, a “certain kind of entertainment,” he acknowledges that it’s a riskier investment than he was used to.

Though undistinguished from the outside, on the inside the building is one of the most high-styled antebellum buildings on Broad, Haltermann said. Also, he was able to buy at a relatively low price.

He’s not sure yet what purpose the building could fill, but he is encouraged that two nearby owners are also planning to renovate.

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floridasun
343
Points
floridasun 10/09/11 - 10:27 pm
0
0
what's Billy morris doing

what's Billy morris doing with all the vacant property/buildings he owns downtown, like the old Coca Cola building at 5th and Reynolds?
Ms Hawkins why don't you interview your boss and see what his plans are?

JohnScott213
10
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JohnScott213 10/10/11 - 05:33 am
0
0
Just a heads up AC, you may

Just a heads up AC, you may want to either crop the graffiti photo in the article or find a new one. There happens to be a certain slang word prominently displayed.

Taylor B
5
Points
Taylor B 10/10/11 - 05:52 am
0
0
John.. LOL! Please tell me

John.. LOL! Please tell me that made it to print!

Riverman1
90290
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Riverman1 10/10/11 - 06:39 am
0
0
It's not very attractive for

It's not very attractive for shoppers, visitors and those seeking entertainment to be walking by empty buildings.

As for the other point, those who own property downtown want hundreds of millions to be spent there with most of the money coming from those who don't live there. See why we get mad?

Riverman1
90290
Points
Riverman1 10/10/11 - 06:41 am
0
0
Downtown areas are never

Downtown areas are never going back to mainstream shopping concerns. Successful ones become entertainment and government office districts. Nothing wrong with that and it's something that should be focused on.

seenitB4
93471
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seenitB4 10/10/11 - 07:01 am
0
0
http://www.youtube.com/watch_

http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=XVTga6GmbGw&vq=medium#t=74

Now if Augusta would put this downtown they would shonuff get some country boys downtown .......even some country gals..:)
But can Augusta "think" outside the box....nah....ballparks rule their brain cells...(& they think we are against everything--not so--):)

cityman
-6
Points
cityman 10/10/11 - 07:24 am
0
0
Great, That is the building
Unpublished

Great, That is the building that had the homeless "ministry"....vagrants run away business. Glad that Bryan got that building!!!

blues550
380
Points
blues550 10/10/11 - 08:55 am
0
0
Tear down or burn up the
Unpublished

Tear down or burn up the Richmond Summitt. Until then that part of downtown will rot. Much of Broad Street rocks! No better place to shop than The Book Tavern and many of Augusta's great places to eat and drink are there - Nacho Mama's, Pizza Joint, Metro, Still Water, Bee's Knees....

cityman
-6
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cityman 10/10/11 - 10:48 am
0
0
blues550....You are correct
Unpublished

blues550....You are correct about the Richmond Summitt!!!

cityman
-6
Points
cityman 10/10/11 - 10:49 am
0
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Why dosent' the Richmond
Unpublished

Why dosent' the Richmond County government get it when it comes to issues like the vagrants and projects like the Summitt???

countyman
21283
Points
countyman 10/10/11 - 12:41 pm
0
0
Seattle, Minneapolis, San

Seattle, Minneapolis, San Francisco, etc have tons of shopping choices downtown..

floridasun
343
Points
floridasun 10/10/11 - 03:13 pm
0
0
Cityman you are so

Cityman you are so correct
the Summit situation just shows how inept our commissioners/planing and zoning department are. Why in the world they would approve a building to house mentally unstable people in section 8 housing in the middle of downtown is beyond me. Until The Summit is cleared of its current population this will be the biggest detriment to downtown progress.
Also would be nice if the city enforced a rule about sidewalks being for walking. Many times I have been on the Broad Street sidewalk walking when young and old come riding along the sidewalk on bicycles, forcing walkers to get out of their way.Don't understand why they can't ride on the street.
Also enforce panhandling laws

Brad Owens
4859
Points
Brad Owens 10/10/11 - 03:30 pm
0
0
That's the old Nash

That's the old Nash dealership. Cool building, glad to see Bryan got it.

cityman
-6
Points
cityman 10/10/11 - 06:15 pm
0
0
Loitering is rampant in
Unpublished

Loitering is rampant in Augusta..why is this allowed??

Donna J
0
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Donna J 10/11/11 - 02:04 pm
0
0
I’m sending a huge “Thumbs

I’m sending a huge “Thumbs Up” to Christopher Bailey for his statement regarding the prices for rent and real estate in the downtown area. Until the downtown area is in great demand, the rent and/or sales tags on vacant buildings are overpriced. This is a shame since it inhibits talented and professional entrepreneurs from locating or keeping their businesses there.
Reasonable prices and buildings that are up to code would be a great start. Downtown Augusta has so much potential and it’s sad to see how stuck in the mud we still are.

Other small towns and cities have jumped on the band wagon to encourage downtown development and are reaping great social benefits and tax revenue since the powers that be have looked past their own interest and put the greater good of their communities first. Here’s hoping for the best……………..once again.

Willow Bailey
20603
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Willow Bailey 10/17/11 - 09:00 pm
0
0
countyman stated: "Seattle,

countyman stated: "Seattle, Minneapolis, San Francisco, etc have tons of shopping choices downtown.."

That would be great, how can that information translate into making the same happen for Augusta?

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