Riverfront plan remains stalled

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The developer of a highly anticipated Savannah riverfront office-condominium-hotel-retail project has said he has yet to buy the six acres of riverfront property from the city -- a $1.85 million transaction -- because he's waiting for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to sign off.

The EPD says, however, the holdup isn't on its end.

Nikki Haborak, a geologist with the Brownfield Redevelopment Unit, said she asked American Environmental and Construction Services, a consulting company for Bluffton, S.C.-based The Foxfield Co., to add more information to its compliance status report on June 20. She has been waiting for an answer ever since, she said.

Once the process is finished, EPD will issue a limitation of liability letter protecting the property's new owner from being sued over past contamination, Ms. Haborack said.

Cleanup of the site, a former train yard, has long been finished.

The city's October 2006 purchase agreement with Foxfield says closing can be delayed until environmental issues are cleared up.

After the sale, if the company doesn't break ground within two years the city can buy back the land.

Foxfield president Harry Kitchen declined interview requests, and Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Margaret Woodard said she wouldn't discuss The Watermark either because Mr. Kitchen asked that all information come through him.

The planned $100 million condominium-office-hotel-retail project along the Savannah River is considered a centerpiece of downtown redevelopment, the final piece of the city's 1982 master plan, but it has been stalled by a slumping housing market.

In a previous interview, Mr. Kitchen was firm that it would be built, but with financing hard to come by, he said he was putting off the condo component to focus on the office building.

City Administrator Fred Russell said he thought Foxfield was waiting for the EPD, but he's not surprised to learn otherwise. The developer is probably trying to wait out the bad economy, he said.

With $200,000 contributed by Mr. Kitchen toward cleanup, the old pension property is now a prime piece of real estate. No one else is lined up to develop it, Mr. Russell said.

"At this point, it's not hurting me at all," he said. "If I had other people knocking at the door, then we'd probably be trying to push the issue."

Mark Senn, a partner with Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial who has developed brownfield sites in South Carolina and Tennessee, said the delay could involve a need to assure lenders that the property is clean, but admitted it could be because of the economy.

"The sources of funding and financing have dried up," Mr. Senn said. "Those that are still making loans on those types of projects are requiring about twice as much equity as they were 12 months ago."

Ms. Haborak said her contact has been environmental attorney Darren Meadows of Hull, Towill, Norman, Barrett & Salley. Mr. Meadows told The Chronicle he doesn't know why the EPD's request hasn't been answered and he referred questions to Mr. Kitchen.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

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HillGuy
8
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HillGuy 09/15/08 - 01:34 am
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This project is dead in the

This project is dead in the water. And really?? Does downtown Augusta need another office building? Look at how many abandoned buildings there are along Broad street and available space in landmarks like The Wachovia and Lamar buildings. I just don't see the market demand for this type of project at this time. And, until the levee is removed in downtown, it will continue to be difficult to develelop the riverfront.

paulwheeler
137
Points
paulwheeler 09/15/08 - 06:25 am
0
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Just get these guys to hire

Just get these guys to hire old Rahn over at MCG. He'll have the city buy the property from themselves with low interest loans backed by transferred money, and then give have the city GIVE the property to Foxfield.

CSRAider
0
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CSRAider 09/15/08 - 06:27 am
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If you build it they will

If you build it they will come!

HillGuy
8
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HillGuy 09/15/08 - 06:36 am
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**"If you build it they will

**"If you build it they will come!"**

Yeah.. that's what the investors at Lehman Bros thought with all of those risky mortgages and condo developments. If you have $100,000,000 to invest and are so sure if you "build it, they will come", then go ahead and be our guest.

iletuknow
8
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iletuknow 09/15/08 - 06:44 am
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Office building to do what?

Office building to do what?

Little Lamb
49260
Points
Little Lamb 09/15/08 - 07:33 am
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The city will probably rent

The city will probably rent the offices and move the sheriff's department there from Walton Way. Taxpayers lose again.

HillGuy
8
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HillGuy 09/15/08 - 08:31 am
0
0
Drive down Broad Street and

Drive down Broad Street and look at all of the empty and boarded up buildings and then tell me that what downtown needs is a "new" office building. That's like saying what downtown needs is another Golf and Gardens.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 09/15/08 - 11:26 am
0
0
I still don't know why we are

I still don't know why we are selling the most expensive piece of property downtown for a little over $300K an acre! Especially after we spent hundreds of thousands cleaning it up! I say put it on E-Bay and rebid it. But then again this is another great plum that the DDA hangs their hats on, so it must be a very good deal. I'm glad that Margaret obviously takes her orders from evelopers and isn't saying anything to the people who pay her salary, after all who are we to question the actions of the DDA. By the way is this one of the 85 new businesses she talks about opening downtown this year?

TaLynPro28
0
Points
TaLynPro28 09/15/08 - 11:34 am
0
0
Wgy dont they do something

Wgy dont they do something like River St in Savannah? Build restaurants, shops, bars, a visitors center & give people something to DO! Do they seriously think people want to go downtown to see a freaking office building? Im so glad i live in Savannah now. There is always something to do here. I would have died of boredom years ago if i had stayed in Augusta!

HillGuy
8
Points
HillGuy 09/15/08 - 11:39 am
0
0
85 new businesses in downtown

85 new businesses in downtown since last year??? What are they counting?? The Pan-handlers?
I agree, the sales price for this land was far too low. And considering that what was initially promised for the site has been considerably scaled back.. the city should simply say "no deal" and then find another buyer. I mean has the property even been aggressively marketed to potential buyers outside of Augusta? The parcel should sell for twice what the city was willing to take.

HillGuy
8
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HillGuy 09/15/08 - 11:43 am
0
0
first.. to replicate

first.. to replicate Savannah's River Street ambiance, you'd have to tear down the levee in downtown. But also you need the tourists... and Augusta is just not a tourist city, and I don't care how hard you try, it's just not going to be. But we can have an attractive, vibrant downtown and riverfront. We don't need any more white elephant tourist traps. Another thing that Savannah did right was preserve and restore its historic structures....making the city a living history museum.

iletuknow
8
Points
iletuknow 09/15/08 - 04:53 pm
0
0
Why is that polluted river

Why is that polluted river downwind from all those massive polluters belching out fowl smelling air so important? The river has been there from day 1 and appears to have done little for Augusta except flood it from time to time.

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