Hotel, retail concept gets nod

The Augusta Historic Preservation Commission approved the concept of a mixed-use development with a hotel in downtown Augusta on Thursday.

The commission voted 7-1 to approve the concept of the $30 million project's size, scope and location on property at James Brown Boulevard and Reynolds Street, where the old Augusta Police Department now stands. The concept includes retail space on the first level fronting the boulevard and along Reynolds Street with two stories of residential space above, underground parking and an eight-story hotel next to the Augusta Common, where a row of historic warehouses now stands.

The police station and most of the warehouses would be demolished. The agreement approved Thursday also calls for the developer to make archival drawings of the old police station, part of which would be salvaged and used in the hotel.

Project designers will work with Historic Augusta to come up with a plan to save as many of the old buildings as possible, according to Tom Robertson, the project engineer.

Demolition of the buildings will be tied to the site plans, which the developers will have a year to complete and bring back to the Historic Preservation Commission for approval. Tennent Houston, representing Historic Augusta, said Historic Augusta believes in the economic development of the city's historic neighborhoods.

"If they're not economically viable, then the job of preserving historic buildings is impossible," he said. "So projects like this, we think can be very, very beneficial to downtown Augusta and can encourage preservation throughout the city. But, I think, it's also important to know that every time a significant building is lost it makes the value of the remaining buildings that much less."

Mr. Tennent asked the commission to delay action until the agency has an opportunity to assess the buildings. Mr. Robertson said delay would not be desirable.

Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Margaret Woodard spoke in favor of the project, saying it is good for downtown Augusta.

"It creates 70 to 80 jobs and means about $300,000 annually in hotel tax," she said. "And it will really, really generate retail with 140 rooms -- a $30 million investment in downtown Augusta. We don't get those every day."

Historic Preservation Commission member Lara Plocha also spoke in favor of the project. Member Rob Moon, the only member to vote against approving the concept, called demolishing historic buildings such as the old police department a "slippery slope."

The police station was built in 1935 for "upwards of $120,000," and was referred to as the "new police barracks," according to the Sept. 1, 1935, edition of The Augusta Chronicle.

The property is being developed by Courtland R. Desseau of Maylene, Ala., according to Richmond County Planning Commission Director George Patty.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.