Originally created 01/18/01

Prime property eyed for complex



One of the newest additions to Augusta Tomorrow Inc.'s downtown master plan resembles something the city already has: a riverfront condominium complex.

But the semipublic revitalization group says the heart of the city can't truly thrive unless more people can live downtown.

"When people live downtown, they spend money downtown. They create a need for 24-hour services, which encourages new business development," said Don Hilderbrandt, design director for LDR International, the Maryland-based company hired to update Augusta Tomorrow's blueprint for the central business district.

Among the plan's most ambitious initiatives is the creation of a residential and retail complex on more than 30 acre of vacant, city-controlled land along the Savannah River between Fifth and Sixth streets.

Planners envision a midrise version of the $40 million Port Royal complex, the pinkish high-rise built in 1991 along the riverfront at Seventh Street.

Although the original retail tenants pulled out of the complex in the mid-1990s (those spaces are now occupied by the Fort Discovery Science Center), all 56 of the building's River Place condos are occupied.

Deborah Tudor, the president of the River Place condo owners association, said a second riverfront residential complex would be well accepted, judging by the recent loft apartment boom along Broad Street.

"I think there are a lot of people who want to live downtown, but not everybody wants to live in a loft apartment," she said. "We're full, so I don't see why (a similar residential complex) couldn't be fully occupied, too."

Unlike many projects proposed in the master plan, the mixed-use riverfront facility would be driven almost entirely by the private sector. Prominent Augusta business leaders were adamant during public hearings that the land be dedicated to nongovernmental uses.

The property, considered by many to be the city's prime piece of real estate, had been eyed as a possible site for the county's proposed judicial center.

"If that land were to revert to the judicial center or something else of that use, it would only be occupied 12 hours of the day," said Augusta businessman Braye Boardman, one of five local investors redeveloping the former JB White department store as an upscale apartment complex.

The land, which has an assessed value of about $800,000, has been held by the city employees pension fund trust since the late 1980s. Augusta-Richmond County plans to purchase the property this year using sales tax revenues, and then resell it to interested private-sector developers.

Augusta commissioners would seek the purchase, but they also would get to establish the sales price because they act as the pension fund's trustees.

"They're wearing two hats," City Attorney Jim Wall said. "The commissioners owe a fiduciary duty to the fund."

The Augusta Tomorrow master plan, created in 1982, also calls for the extension of Monument Avenue from Greene Street to the proposed riverfront residential center.

If implemented, the plan would require officials to secure the necessary right of way, demolish buildings in the pathway and relocate sections of the historic railroad warehouse that fronts the property off Reynolds Street.

The building is currently on lease to an antiques dealer.

"It's a historic building," Mr. Hilderbrandt said. "But it's not that sacred."

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or bized@augustachronicle.com.