Originally created 03/15/97

Enterprise Mill could lose $7 million in bond financing



A partnership's plan to buy and renovate Enterprise Mill could lose $7 million in bond financing unless it closes the deal by April 14, according to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

The partners - Bryan Haltermann, Clayton Boardman III and Bettis Rainsford - hope to renovate the 270,000-square-foot landmark into 233 apartments, touching off a new era in downtown redevelopment along the Augusta Canal.

The group initially hoped to close their purchase from the former Graniteville Company in March 1996. Extensions were granted until September - and then December - but the closing still has not occurred.

"We're working extremely hard trying to put the last pieces together," Mr. Haltermann said Friday. "But on a project like this, there are a lot of moving pieces."

One crucial deadline involves $7 million in bond financing allocated through the Department of Community Affairs.

Bond financing, which enables developers to borrow money under more favorable terms than found in typical commercial financing, also includes tax credits and other attractive financial features.

"If we sanction a project, we block out that amount," said Michael Gleaton, DCA's director of coordinated planning. "As long as it's moving along, we hold that amount. But if the project fails, or isn't going to happen, then that amount can be reallocated to some other project."

The allocation is valid through April 14, with a potential one-time, one-month extension, Mr. Gleaton said. If those dates expire, the allocation is lost and the partners would have to start from scratch.

"We are working against a very serious deadline, with regard to our bond financing," Mr. Haltermann said. "And we're working cooperatively with the Canal Authority and Augusta-Richmond County to make it work."

The city of Augusta, which supports the project due to its impact on downtown and the Canal, hopes to accelerate progress by providing the developers with water from the canal.

However, in exchange, the city wants to control the historic mill's two hydropower generators, capable of producing 600 kilowatts apiece, translating to about $150,000 in potential annual revenues.

"We're working with them in hopes of getting this deal going," said Augusta-Richmond County Administrator Randy Oliver. "We'd really like to see this project become a reality."

Mr. Oliver said the city cannot devote general fund money to the project, but can assist by offering the canal water for the generators.

If the city can own the generators, they can produce electricity as part of a potential exhibit within the planned Augusta Canal visitors center, which the Canal Authority hopes to establish within Enterprise Mill.

"Our interest is to have the generating plant functional so we could use it as a museum and display," said Canal Authority Chairman Dick Fox.

The visitors center would be located in Granite Mill - a portion of the Enterprise believed to be the only surviving structure from the original factories established along the canal when it was built in 1845.