Originally created 04/29/00

Developer plans condos



Deke Copenhaver first fell in love with the Commerce Building's tall windows and striking marble facade when he was a child.

He still admires the Broad Street landmark, but now he owns it.

Mr. Copenhaver purchased the three-story structure Monday and said he plans to develop the upper levels into upscale condominiums with retail at the ground level.

The renovation plan is a smaller version of what local businessman Clay Boardman is doing at the old JB White department store building a few blocks away.

"I'm so encouraged by everything going on down here," said Mr. Copenhaver, a commercial real estate agent for Augusta-based Blanchard & Calhoun. "My intention is to keep putting money into downtown."

The 14,000-square-foot Commerce Building, at the corner of Broad and Seventh streets, was built in the 1880s and was one of the few downtown buildings untouched by the Great Fire of 1916.

Although vacant for the past several years, the building's upper levels have served as offices for businesses while its ground floor has been home to prominent establishments such as the Alpine Club and The Green Scallion restaurant.

Mr. Copenhaver, 32, said he sees the building's 15-foot ceilings and bare brick walls appealing to an increasing number of people wanting unique residential environments.

"They don't make buildings like this anymore," he said, adding the property is structurally sound.

However, $500,000 of reconstruction work will likely be done before a single unit is sold, he said.

Mr. Copenhaver, a former agent affiliate for Southeby's International in Beaufort, S.C., purchased the historic building for $130,000 from Augusta-based Merry Land Properties Inc., which acquired it from former Gov. Carl E. Sanders in 1982 for approximately $300,000.

The building had been a nonperforming asset in Merry Land's portfolio for the past several years.

"We felt like it was time to sell it to somebody who had an interest in it," Merry Land President W. Tennent Houston said. "I hope it works out for him."

Mr. Copenhaver has changed the building's address from 666 Broad St. to 670 Broad St. so potential residents would have an address without negative connotations. An Atlanta art gallery has expressed interest in leasing the ground floor, he said.

The Commerce Building project is Mr. Copenhaver's first stab at property development. He said his ultimate goal is to bring some of West Broad Street's vibrancy to the east end.

Hopefully, he said, the revitalization will encourage other investors to take on Broad Street's 700 and 800 blocks, where most vacant department store buildings are located.

"You've got to get upper and lower Broad established to grow in between," Mr. Copenhaver said.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486.