Originally created 06/02/04

Condos, mall are pitched for river



Luxurious high-rise condominiums could be headed to the Augusta riverfront if Augusta businessman Woody Merry has his way.

On Tuesday, Mr. Merry presented a letter of intent to city officials, proposing to purchase a tract of land at Fifth and Reynolds streets, known as the 1949 pension fund property, for $3 million. The goal, he said, is to build a high-rise building with a three-story mall, refurbish the old railroad depot on the site and have a municipal parking garage.

"We're going to increase the property tax base of Richmond County significantly," Mr. Merry said Tuesday, adding that the plan is to market condominiums at the riverfront property to retirees throughout the country at a lower price than normal of $150,000 to $200,000. He said the idea would be implemented in six phases.

"I want to get a commitment from the city that they'll give me the time I need to get this plan in action," he said.

In the letter of intent he gave to city officials, it states that Associates Capital Development LLC, a Georgia limited liability company, intends to make the purchase.

After an Augusta Commission pension committee meeting Tuesday, Oscar Baker, a member of the city's 1949 pension plan, which owns the site, said he likes the proposal presented by Mr. Merry better than one previously mentioned by the city to pay $1.7 million for the property.

"I don't want to take any less," Mr. Baker said about Mr. Merry's $3 million proposal.

Mr. Baker also said the city shouldn't get involved with what goes in at the property.

"I don't think that's the city's prerogative," he said. "That property belongs to us."

But Augusta Mayor Bob Young said Tuesday the city still plans to purchase the property and turn any profits over to the pensioners.

Mr. Merry said he has already had a positive response to his plan from some in the community.

"We've got the financial wherewithal to pull this off," he said. "...I've got several people that are involved in this, but none of them want to be revealed at this time."

Mr. Merry said the development of the Augusta Showcase three years ago drove the idea, but he said it is independent of Augusta Showcase.

"It's taken three years to craft the plan," he said. "I can create new jobs, a larger tax base, pretty much everything we need done I can do."

The first phase, he said, is attracting wealthy individuals to the riverfront for a condominium at a good price.

In a letter sent to those with the 1949 pension fund, Mr. Merry stated he plans to break ground in the next 18 months. A total construction cost has not been estimated, but the design firm Corporate Studio has been obtained to make preliminary sketches and a floor plan analysis.

The Allison Group also is being paid to market the idea. Mr. Merry said he plans to provide more details about the project publicly at a 4 p.m. meeting today at the Allison Group's Seventh Street office.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

Businessman Woody Merry plans to market the housing portion of the riverfront development to retirees.