Many developments stalled by economy remain on hold

Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Claude Key (right) and Kesha Butler work with new Carmax employee Brandon Walker before Wednesday's grand opening. The car dealer's opening was delayed for more than a year.

As the delayed opening of a chain car dealership in Augusta happens Wednesday, other announced developments for the area remain on hold.

CarMax, at 130 Mason McKnight Jr. Parkway, was stagnant for more than a year before the economy turned around enough for the company to hire 35 people and stock it with cars.

The used-car retailer will open its first Georgia store outside Atlanta with a ceremony and an appearance by its chief executive.

Plans for a Bass Pro Shop and a shopping center and mixed-use development in Evans don't appear to be coming to fruition in the immediate future.

Executives from Bass Pro Shops are feeling good, but a return to Augusta to launch their store hasn't been set.

There are no plans to start up construction, said Larry Whiteley, a spokesman for Bass Pro.

"We're very optimistic ourselves, but this whole thing isn't up to us -- it's the developers," Whiteley said.

Construction on a 100,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops store off River Watch Parkway has been on hold for more than a year because of the economy.

In April 2008 Missouri-based Bass Pro announced plans for a store in a larger development, Village at Riverwatch. The store is expected to bring about 250 jobs to the area.

Messages left with the communications office for MGHerring Group, the Texas-based project developer, were not returned.

An Evans mixed-use development remains in limbo as a lawsuit filed against Columbia County government officials waits to go to trial this year.

For more than a year, a Chili's restaurant has been the only business to locate in Marshall Square between Evans Town Center Boulevard and North Belair Road.

The county and developers bumped heads in 2009 after county officials limited apartment units in Marshall Square to 189.

Marshall Square developers filed a lawsuit against the county, claiming its decision on site plan revisions was "overly restrictive" and "unduly burdensome."

In April, Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet denied Marshall Square developers a motion for partial summary judgment, said Bill Trotter, an attorney for the developers.

Trotter said he anticipates a trial starting in July.

In February, developers said they had cut prices of the land by 40 percent, lowering the cost of a half-acre lot to $223,000.

"That's really helped get people interested, and we're going to continue to do some marketing here," said Don Lawrence, of D.C. Lawrence Commercial LLC.

As a result, Lawrence said, several medical and professional office groups have shown "serious interest" in the property.

Construction on a second phase of the Mullins Crossings shopping center was originally scheduled to start by the end of 2008. But now the owners are seeking a zoning change from commercial to R-1, or single-family residential.

That classification could also allow storage, said Nayna Mistry, Columbia County planning manager.

The second phase, developers said at the time, was to include two out-parcels, 130,000 square feet of store space, anchored by Hobby Lobby.

Hobby Lobby opened a store in the Augusta Exchange shopping center, and the second phase of Mullins Crossing never got under way.

"The ideal use would be commercial, but as you know commercial is kind of slow right now," Mistry said.

She added that the owners have been unable to sell the property. No formal reason for a rezoning request is required on the application.

The application was submitted last month by Joseph Mullins, and the request will be heard at a June 3 meeting of the Columbia County Planning Commission, Mistry said. A recommendation will be made and submitted to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, who will make a final decision.

Phone messages left for developer Frank Mullins were not returned.