Originally created 05/05/02

Building a future



It might not look like much now, but when Fred Sims Jr. looks across the vast, empty fields bordering Jimmie Dyess Parkway all he sees is potential.

"It's kind of exciting to see what it used to be and where it is now," Mr. Sims said. "It's taken years to get it to where we have it now."

What it used to be was 1,700 acres of undeveloped clay fields owned by Georgia Vitrified Clay Co., of which Mr. Sims' family is the majority stakeholder.

Now that a 3.6-mile expressway runs through the middle of the land, it's prime for substantial residential, office and retail growth.

Jimmie Dyess Parkway, which opened in 1998, was built as a quick connector between Fort Gordon's Gate 1 and the Belair Road exit of Interstate 20.

It cut a swath right through the middle of the clay fields and now brings more than 9,200 cars daily past the family's land.

In 1992, the family sold off the Harlem-based mining operation. "We're a land-holding company now," Mr. Sims said.

The family created a master plan that divides the land into different uses, from light industrial deep inside the property, to commercial lots along the highway's frontage.

Because Jimmie Dyess was intended to be a short expressway, the Department of Transportation granted only one median cut on the road. At that intersection, the Simses set aside 50 acres zoned for commercial use. The area, called Dyess Park, is divided into 19 plots.

"You've got to start somewhere when you've got 1,700 acres," said Matt Mills, an agent for Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial Corp. who is marketing the property for the Simses.

"We started with the commercial lots and sold some residential."

Last year, the county extended utilities to the area, and the family spent $750,000 to pave an access road off Jimmie Dyess and a side road to connect the lots.

Three of the tracts in the park, a total of 8.7 acres, have been sold, and construction on the first office building is expected to start in June.

"I think once we start building out there, it's going to go quick," said Bryan Tuschen, who purchased 3.2 acres in the park in November.

Mr. Tuschen already has a financial services company lined up to occupy a 5,000-square-foot office building in what will be his Freedom Park Executive Center. First Command Financial Planning, currently on Davis Drive, had been looking for space closer to Fort Gordon because the company's clients are primarily military personnel.

Mr. Mills said he expects interest in the lots, which range in price from $26,000 to $320,000 an acre, to pick up substantially once the first office buildings are built.

Local hotel developer A.K. Gulati also has purchased two parcels, or 5 1/2 acres, in the park. He said he is considering putting a hotel in the space but added that he intends to wait for another year or two while he finishes construction of another hotel on Belair Road.

He said he bought the land last year because of the residential growth in the area.

"It needs something commercial," he said.

While their marketing brochure highlights the Dyess Park project, the Simses have not limited themselves to commercial development. They also sold 85 acres to Nordahl Realty Inc. last year for a new subdivision behind the planned commercial park.

Construction on the Breckenridge subdivision is expected to start later this month. It will have 230 brick, ranch-style homes ranging in price from $100,000 to $150,000, said Joe Croft, Nordahl's vice president of sales and marketing.

Farther down Jimmie Dyess and across Gordon Highway, another segment of the family's land was sold to developers who are building upscale modular homes.

Southeastern Family Homes, Inc. is developing the 70-acre BelfairLakes east of Gate 1. The subdivision will include about 90 homes, each on 100-foot lots and with brick foundations, said Victor J. Mills, CEO of Southeastern Family Homes. Mr. Mills also is president of Blanchard & Calhoun Commercial Corp.

Even with the spurt of transactions last year, the Simses still have a lot of land available. But the family would rather sell methodically than hack off pieces of the property to the first buyers and risk a hodgepodge of uncontrolled development.

Augusta Planning Director George Patty said the family's master plan was a good idea.

"We're glad to see anybody, any large landowner, have an overall plan for the property and implement that plan in pieces," he said.

The Simses have included architectural controls in their contracts, stipulating that builders use masonry, such as brick or stucco, for the office and retail structures. They also want to keep out businesses that traditionally gravitate toward military bases, namely pawn shops and tattoo parlors.

"Augusta needs something nice," Mr. Sims said. "Hopefully, if we do it right rather than chopping it up or junk it up, we can make this something Augusta will be proud of."

Mr. Sims said he would eventually like to see a large retail space develop inside the commercial park, with a grocery store or Wal-Mart as the anchor tenant. But he said that would not happen until after enough residential space has filled in, several years down the road.

Mr. Mills said he thinks the area could become the city's next major section of development because of its access to Fort Gordon and the interstate.

"We just market it as hard as we can to anyone we can think of," he said. "I may be contacting a gas station one day and an apartment developer the next."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227 or vicky.eckenrode@augustachronicle.com.