Editorial: A new high-watermark

A $93 million depot development is a huge piece in riverfront puzzle

When was the last time you made a $93 million deal?

 

Guess what: You just did.

The land was cleared some years ago, and on Tuesday a unanimous Augusta Commission cleared the way for an as-yet unspecified $93 million mixed-use development at the historic train depot property on the riverfront downtown between Fifth and Sixth streets.

While we should be excited, we probably shouldn’t be surprised: Augusta’s strangely underdeveloped riverbank has to be some of the most prime downtown riverfront real estate east of the Mississippi.

And since the Pentagon’s announcement nearly four years ago that it would locate its Army Cyber Command headquarters at nearby Fort Gordon, there’s been an explosion of related development and development prospects emanating throughout the multi-county region.

So much so that the Alliance for Fort Gordon – originally formed to protect the fort against closure – has since been repurposed “to promote, coordinate and advocate for the Fort Gordon cyber district to stimulate investment in cyber growth and capitalize on opportunities for the benefit of all.”

In addition, while details of the mixed-use development – said to include office, retail, residential and a parking deck – are still secret, it’s no secret the six-acre site was in the sights of developers: The commission, which purchased the property from the city pension fund in 2005, agreed in May 2016 to have the DDA market it for development. Since then, the depot site has been the subject of understandable environmental remediation, and has most recently been turned into temporary parking space.

We’ve always known more was in store for that potentially grand ground.

Nor is it the first flirtation for the site. Developers similarly planned a mixed-use, $100 million office-condominium-hotel-retail project called “The Watermark” – but the economic collapse of 2008-09 washed that away.

Likewise, this unnamed $93 million development deal isn’t yet a done deal; they haven’t even named the developer, and it’s still subject to an impending preliminary development agreement and the issuance of $14 million in public financing bonds by the DDA.

But the die is cast for one of the biggest private developments ever in the city core.

It’s also potentially one of the last pieces of the development puzzle for a downtown riverfront that, again, has sat oddly idle for far too long.

At the other end of the downtown riverbank, ending at the 13th Street bridge into South Carolina, an ambitious plan of yesteryear for a “Golf and Gardens” tourist site, along with the nice idea of a Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, withered with the many flowers planted there. At one point, civic volunteers nearly needed an act of Congress to merely get onto the property in order to cut back its unsightly vegetation.

Fast forward to 2017: The 17-acre-plus tract is now the site of construction of the Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, which opens next year.

A $93 million mixed-use, mostly privately financed development at the other end would be an incredible bookend indeed – a new high-watermark, both for the banks of the Savannah and for the hopes and dreams they have inspired.

 

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