Originally created 11/27/01

Center sells to vehicle dealer



Augusta car dealer Andy Jones has purchased the Columbia Square shopping center and plans to turn it into an auto mall.

Mr. Jones said he intends to move seven of his eight car franchises to the Columbia County property by spring 2003, essentially ending his company's presence on Gordon Highway, which he had helped market as Augusta's "Motor Mile."

He purchased the shopping center Nov. 20 from Equitable Life Assurance Society, a subsidiary of New York-based AXA Financial Inc.

The sale was confirmed Monday by the New York office of Lend Lease Corp. Ltd., a real estate investment company that marketed the property. The company would not disclose financial terms of the deal, and public records on the transaction had not been filed as of Monday.

Columbia Square, the home to tenants such as CiCi's Pizza and Roses, is split into two sections, both of which were included in the sale.

Mr. Jones did not return repeated phone messages left Monday at his Mazda-Isuzu dealership and on his mobile phone. But in an interview several months ago, he outlined his plans for the property and his reasons for relocating.

"(Columbia County) - that's where the growth is," said Mr. Jones, the president of Gerald Jones Volkswagen Inc. "In the '90s, Richmond County grew 2 percent, Columbia County grew 35 percent. That's pretty substantial numbers."

He said his Volkswagen, Audi, Honda and Volvo dealerships would be first to relocate to the property, a 16-acre tract bordered by Washington, Columbia and Flowing Wells roads. His Mazda dealership will remain in North Augusta, and the Volvo facility on Gordon Highway will operate as a service center only.

"I've been very successful in Richmond County; we've been here for 27 years," said Mr. Jones, who acquired the dealership group from his father, Gerald, two years ago. "Hopefully I'm just going to a more convenient location for the vast majority of people who buy my cars."

Greg Hodges, whose auto group owns four car dealerships on Gordon Highway, said his competitor's move will sap some momentum from the Motor Mile. However, he remains bullish on the urban Augusta market.

"This location really works for me," he said. "(Mr. Jones) has to do what he feels is appropriate for him."

Columbia Square was a thriving suburban shopping center when it was developed in 1974 and expanded in 1976, but now much of its 140,000 square feet of retail space is vacant.

Mr. Jones said he will use the shell of the property's existing buildings to house his dealerships, so he will have to make arrangements, such as lease buyouts, with existing tenants.

Roses, for example, is rumored to be relocating to another area of town, but company spokesman Tim Blackburn would not disclose any details Monday.

"We haven't made an announcement yet," he said.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 and Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.