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MCG Foundation criticizes handling of Augusta Public Transit property

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 5:16 PM
Last updated Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 2:22 AM
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Medical College of Georgia Foundation Inc. is crying foul after its longtime interest in buying the nearby city bus depot has apparently been rebuffed in favor of a company developing a Walmart, an official said. But Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles said the foundation “tried to steal the Walmart from the developer” after Bowles tried to arrange a meeting between the foundation and the developer, Blanchard and Calhoun.

“In the business world, it’s very disturbing to treat a developer like that, especially a local developer interested in investing in Augusta,” he said. “They tried to circumvent the system.”

Foundation President and CEO James Osborne, whose organization owns an adjoining piece of land on 15th Street, said he “didn’t try to steal anything. I was acting on behalf of the foundation and the university.”

City Administrator Fred Russell said years of talks with the foundation went nowhere, and he took the best plan that would provide a grocery store for the neighborhood in the long term.

“You can’t make everybody happy,” he said.

Osborne said the foundation contacted Walmart directly after hearing the company was interested in downtown “and they were very interested” in the foundation’s property, he said. After meeting with an agent of the company in early January, the foundation was told a letter of intent would come within 10 days, but it never did. Osborne said he never spoke to Bowles about a meeting with Blanchard and Calhoun.

Then two weeks ago, the foundation met with Russell about the Augusta Public Transit property, which is next to the foundation’s shopping center on 15th Street, Osborne said. Russell told the foundation the city property was being sold for $400,000 to Blanchard and Calhoun, Osborne said. Russell did not confirm that figure but said it “sounds close.”

Osborne was told the deal would be put on hold, but Russell said he conferred with the commission, and it wanted to move forward with the deal.

The foundation has been trying to acquire the bus depot and its 3½ acres for at least the past seven years, Osborne said. About six or seven years ago, the foundation thought it had a deal to buy the property for $1 million, but “then it was blocked,” he said, and the foundation was never told why. Russell said he doesn’t remember ever having a final deal for the property.

The MCG Foundation’s shopping center has a Kroger grocery store, and the lease for that store was renewed in January, contrary to reports the store is closing, Osborne said.

“(Russell) said that Kroger had told him they were going to leave. But that’s not accurate,” Osborne said. “We told him that, and I thought that would shed some light on his concern that we’d be left here without a grocery store. We don’t see Kroger leaving in the foreseeable future.”

But that’s not what Russell and Bowles say they are hearing.

“My conversations with Kroger is they are not overly happy there,” Russell said. “My problem is I need a grocery store in the neighborhood. Best case scenario, whatever (the foundation does) there, that grocery store goes away. I need a long-term commitment to that community to have a grocery store. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush at this particular point in time.”

The Kroger lease is year-to-year and both sides have an option to terminate with six months’ notice, Osborne said. So Russell said he took the best deal, which was to allow Blanchard and Calhoun to develop a store on the site.

“A boutique Walmart, 40,000-square-foot, that’s going to be a new, exciting investment for that corner that hopefully can fit into (foundation) plans one way or the other,” Russell said. “Or maybe we can jointly plan this together. But we had to get off the nail. We’ve been on the cusp of some great thing for the last seven years. And I am getting tired of sitting on cusp. It’s time to move.”

If the project does not produce a grocery store, in fact, the land reverts to the city, Russell said.

A representative of Blanchard and Calhoun did not return three calls Wednesday seeking comment. Osborne said he would still like to make a proposal about the property and would like to see public hearings on it. Bowles said it is about putting the land in that area in play.

“This is about getting a piece of property back onto the tax base,” Bowles said. “It’s about a whole bunch of property around the bus property,” including parcels south of the Walmart tract because the new store, known as a Walmart Neighborhood Market, is likely to face Walton Way, he said.

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countyman 02/23/12 - 01:34 pm
The first neighborhood market

The first neighborhood market will look alot better compared to that Kroger..

Plenty of disposable income in the CBD, Summerville, Forest Hillls, Waters Edge, Olde Town, etc nearby to support the development..

The Kroc Center, and now a new Walmart will definitely help improve the raggedy side of Harrisburg..

GuesS_wHU 02/23/12 - 02:41 pm
I'm finding it hard to

I'm finding it hard to believe that any grocery store .....oops forgot the buzzword, "neighborhood market", is going to be any different then the Kroger is. Same location. Same problems. I'm sure the locals will appreciate the shopping cart upgrades though.

countyman 02/23/12 - 03:11 pm
There's a big difference

There's a big difference between something new and something in need of renovation... The Kroger shopping center looks undesirable, and doesn't attract certain people.. The population living/working in the CBD, Summerville, Forest Hills, Medical District, Olde Town, Waters Edge, Medical District, etc will use the new Walmart.. The Walmart will force GHSU to expand on the property next door, or renovate the Kroger shopping center.. Expect to see additional foot traffic along 15th street.. Paine College and GHSU students can walk to Walmart in the future.

I wouldn't call neighborhood market a buzz word, but describes the new focus of some retailers... There's no way Target, Walmart, etc can expand into urban areas with their traditional stores..

I remember when people said the Kroc Center wouldn't attract soccer moms, upper middle class families, etc because it's located in Harrisburg.. Augusta is late to the gentrification party happening across the US.. There's several brand new high-rise condos throughout downtown Brooklyn.. If Olde Town can become one of the most popular choices among young professionals(right beside Summerville & the CBD), then so can Harrisburg and Laney Walker..

GuesS_wHU 02/23/12 - 04:20 pm
I'm not sure if I agree with

I'm not sure if I agree with that for a few reasons.

"The Kroger shopping center looks undesirable, and doesn't attract certain people.. "
Honestly, how often do you shop at that Kroger? When was the last time you were there? Looks have less to do with it then your rose colored glasses will allow you to admit. I'll point some things out to you: Employees have been attacked there. Shoppers are constantly confronted with pan handlers. The employees at times are wretched (I had one offer to sell me food stamps once) and there is almost always at least one employee standing in front of the store smoking and/or talking on the phone. The produce is not well kept up and the selection is pretty bad in some sections. I can not count the number of expired products I find on the shelves. Looks may be a factor but not the entire reason for not attracting certain people.

"The population living/working in the CBD, Summerville, Forest Hills, Medical District, Olde Town, Waters Edge, Medical District, etc will use the new Walmart.. "
The expected result of this Walmart is a grocery store. Not a normal Walmart. Why would anyone from Summerville or Forest Hills bother when they have a really nice Bi-Lo closer and more convenient that does not present the above types of problems? There is a drug store and a couple of eateries in the Daniel Village so the need is even less for those folks.

The two stores will not be able to coexist. I've never seen two grocery stores within throwing distance of each other last. The pharmacy's get away with it for awhile but even those don't last long usually. How long do you think it will take for Wal-mart to have the same problems as this Kroger has?

"I remember when people said the Kroc Center wouldn't attract soccer moms, upper middle class families, etc because it's located in Harrisburg.."
You are talking about apples and baseballs here. Not even apples and oranges. The Kroc center is not a necessity for a single person in the CSRA. It's an amenity. A grocery store on the other hand is a necessity. Especially to the many, many people who frequent that Kroger. Many of whom live in walking proximity. When the Kroger closes the same problems there now WILL move over to the Wal-mart. It will end up being nothing more then an upgraded Kroger. I don't consider that to be a bad thing but the same people will be frequenting this grocery store that frequent the Kroger now. The ones who have no choice and the brave who find it convenient.

I appreciate your optimism for EVERYTHING to do with Augusta but once in a while you should admit that there are things wrong here. It would help your credibility.

countyman 02/23/12 - 05:27 pm
The same people who accuse me

The same people who accuse me of being optimistic are pessimistic when it comes to everything.. The problems associated with Kroger come from the demographic the store attracts.. Let's not even concentrate on the people living in the immediate area.. The people working in the CBD and Medical District don't shop at the Kroger.. The majority of students at GHSU and Paine aren't fans of the Kroger..

Summerville is one of several neighborhoods/areas nearby with disposable income(Waters Edge, Medical District, CBD, Olde Town,) and the residents will shop at the Walmart especially if it's open 24hr..

The Kroc Center is located in the raggedy side of Harrisburg, but doesn't have the same crime problems.. Developers could have built the first neighborhood Walmart anywhere in the metro area.. I'm POSITIVE the nearby income of Summerville, Medical District, Waters Edge, Olde Towne, and the CBD played a major role..

Fundamental_Arminian 02/23/12 - 05:33 pm
"I'm finding it hard to

"I'm finding it hard to believe that any grocery store .....oops forgot the buzzword, "neighborhood market", is going to be any different then the Kroger is. Same location. Same problems. I'm sure the locals will appreciate the shopping cart upgrades though" (GuesS_wHU).

The Kroger has been hampered because its management realizes that GHSU may not extend the lease on the property. If Wal-Mart moves in on property it owns, its management will have good reason to maintain and even improve its neighborhood market.

Having friends in Harrisburg, I'm delighted that they'll have a good supermarket to shop at. I believe that Kroger would've been much more customer-friendly, if it had owned its property there.

Riverman1 02/23/12 - 08:21 pm
Joe Bowles said, "River, I

Joe Bowles said, "River, I have been on the commission for 6 years and have never seen any offers from the Foundation for any property. Last I checked we stroked a 10 million dollar check to mcg a few years ago."

Joe, I'm not doubting you, but like that other poster, I have memories of MCG wanting land down there a long time ago. I'm not sure of the details, but there was something said about them wanting the transit property. This could have been before your time, but I'm pretty sure they have expressed an interest before. Shoot, just ask them who they talked to or something like that.

leebraxjr 03/03/12 - 10:01 pm
I have been reading a lot of

I have been reading a lot of discussions all of you have posted. There is a good argument for Walmart and Kroger. What I see is something that has not been downtown, and that is competition. With these to markets competiting with each other drastic positive changes will occur. We do know that Kroger will be there for a least another year, and that means with competition the the area will go thru drastic changes concerning panhandlers and the like.

My only question that I have is what happens with the public transportation?

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