Originally created 05/27/01

Open spaces



The closure of Augusta's J.P. King Manufacturing Division of Spartan International is the most recent example of how a slow national economy and corporate downsizing have affected the local job force.

But the 306 workers who lost their jobs when Spartan International folded in early May are just the exclamation point on a tumultuous two months in which four other large area employers shut down:

Globe Business Furniture closed its Waynesboro wooden table manufacturing plant in late April, cutting 130 jobs.

Fire King International closed its Waynesboro safe manufacturing plant in early May, cutting 75 jobs.

Rock-Tenn Co. closed its Augusta paperboard packaging plant in early May, cutting 125 jobs.

Bill's Dollar Store Inc.'s distribution center in Augusta closed April 1, cutting almost 100 jobs.

With those companies leaving town, more than 1.5 million square-feet of commercial building space are lying dormant in Columbia, Burke and Richmond counties. Business leaders from the three counties are scrambling to fill the void.

The Columbia County and Augusta metro chambers of commerce sponsored a bus tour Thursday of seven empty commercial buildings in the three counties for statewide developers and the brokerage communities in Augusta and Atlanta.

The idea was to promote these buildings to people who have the influence to attract companies to the area.

The three other buildings they toured were the Sunlite Furniture distribution building in Waynesboro; the Vanity Fair Corp. children's clothing distribution building in Augusta; and the Columbia County speculative building in Grovetown.

About 40 people took the tour, including representatives from Georgia Power; the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism; and the Hart Corporation, an Atlanta-based industrial real estate company.

"We've got to get people here to touch and feel the product," said tour organizer Kevin Shea, senior vice president for economic development for the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.

"The buildings themselves are key to attracting companies to the area," he said. "Then when these people recommend the buildings to clients, they'll feel more comfortable about it."

Spectators spent about 20 minutes in each building and were given outlines of the buildings' specifications.

"Eighty-five percent of prospects want to look at the building first," said Robert Wood, the executive project manager for the economic development division of the Industry, Trade and Tourism department.

"That's the plus side to all these empty buildings here," he said. "It's going to generate some traffic and some interest in the area."

Having so many buildings available at one time could work in Augusta's favor, because most manufacturers and distributors will want to utilize existing infrastructure instead of financing new buildings - particularly during this dowdy economic climate, Mr. Wood said.

The buildings are all different, which should also increase interest in the area, Mr. Wood said. Of the seven buildings, three were used for manufacturing, three for distribution and one is speculative - it's never been used for anything.

The available space ranges from 471,396 square feet to 77,000 square feet, and five of the buildings were built in the 1990s.

"You've got a fair mix in this area," said Kent Mason, who works for Hart Corp. in Atlanta, which is representing the empty Globe Business Furniture building in Waynesboro.

"Each building has different assets," he said. "There's a benefit to having a lot of different buildings because it gets brokers and consultants thinking about the area."

The manufacturing buildings might prove more difficult to fill than the distribution buildings, Mr. Mason said. Prospects for manufacturers have fallen substantially in the past eight months, and many projects have been tabled.

Manufacturers are considering cutting back more than expanding, he said.

"In the six states we operate in, we've seen in excess of 10 million square feet of space close down in the past six months," Mr. Mason said. "Manufacturers are hurting, there's no doubt about it."

Available buildings in the Augusta metro area:

BURKE COUNTY:

Sunlite

Location: Waynesboro, Ga.

Previous use: Furniture and fixtures distribution

Year built: 1971

Specs:

471,396 square feet

30 acres

14- to 26-foot ceilings

Industrial zoning

Metal and masonry construction

16,204 square feet of office space

Globe Business Furniture

Location: Waynesboro, Ga.

Previous use: Furniture and fixtures

Year built: 1995

Specs:

127,458 square feet

302-foot by 482-foot dimension

27-foot ceilings

Heavy industrial zoning

25 truck doors

Metal construction

Gary Safe International

Location: Waynesboro, Ga.

Previous use: Safe manufacturing

Year built: 1992

Specs:

77,000 square feet

250-foot by 300-foot dimension

26-foot to 30-foot ceilings

Heavy industrial zoning

Three truck doors

Metal construction

COLUMBIA COUNTY

Columbia County Speculative Building

Location: Grovetown

Previous use: None

Year built: 1998

Specs:

128,000 square feet

400-foot by 320-foot dimension

28-foot ceilings

Heavy industrial zoning

Four truck doors

One drive-in door

Tilt-up concrete construction

RICHMOND COUNTY

Rock-Tenn

Location: Augusta

Previous use: Folding cardboard boxes manufacturing

Year built: 1961/75,000 square feet added in 1998

Specs:

156,000 square feet

14.5 acres

16-foot to 25-foot ceilings

Heavy industrial zoning

Six truck doors

Brick and block construction

Vanity Fair Corp.

Location: Augusta

Previous use: Children's clothing distribution

Year built: 1991

Specs:

204,000 square feet

30 acres

24-foot ceilings

Heavy industrial zoning

17 truck doors

Brick and block construction

Bill's Dollar Store Warehouse

Location: Augusta

Previous use: Warehouse and distribution

Year built: 1999

Specs:

406,966 square feet

704-foot by 565-foot dimension

31-foot ceilings

Light industrial zoning

60 truck doors

Two drive-in doors

Metal and masonry construction

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or jbanks15@hotmail.com.