Marshall Square should start soon

Construction on the first phase of Marshall Square in Evans should start this year.

"I have several deals going on right now, but I can't talk about them just yet," developer Don Lawrence said. "However, construction and building will start in the first half of 2008."

Recently, Columbia County commissioners approved site changes to the mixed-use development on Evans Town Center Boulevard, allowing many office buildings along the northeastern edge of the development and shifting the location of a proposed hotel farther north.

Many nearby residents opposed the changes, but county officials said such changes aren't unusual.

Mr. Lawrence said he was surprised by the public outcry. However, he expects only small changes to the plan as the project moves forward.

"Except for minor changes to some buildings, possibly being a different shape, that's it," he said. "The layout, that's not going to change. We like it the way it is now."

The site plan for Marshall Square was first approved in 2004. Governmental red tape prolonged the construction phase, said Mr. Lawrence, who would not elaborate.

Jeff Browning, the county's director of planning and development, said a lag between site approval and construction isn't unusual for a development such as Marshall Square, which will include a hotel, offices, restaurants, retail shops and living spaces.

"Take Riverwood Plantation, for example," Mr. Browning said. "The commercial element has been under way since 1997, but not a speck of that commercial development has come about.

"However, the residential started fairly quickly. They had to build the residential to build up support for the eventual commercial."

Because Marshall Square is primarily intended for commercial space, Mr. Browning suspects that developers are waiting for more residential development in the area to support their commercial properties.

Currently, Marshall Square would have to compete for shoppers with both the Augusta Mall and the retail development being proposed on River Watch Parkway, he said.

"What's happening is perhaps the Columbia County portion of the metropolitan market is having to grow a little more to support something like this," Mr. Browning said.

Mr. Lawrence said the size of Marshall Square prevents construction of the project all at once.

"It will be done in phases," he said. "Being 57.5 acres, it's going to take a while to get the whole thing developed, but the first phases will be developed in the first half of the year."

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.