Yearly Archives: 2015

The Trans­por­ta­tion Investment Act marks a milestone this month with all of the area’s “Band 1” construction projects now underway.

The panel of residents assigned to review spending of the regional 10-year transportation sales tax gave this phase of projects its blessing Wednesday.
“There has been a huge amount of work done, without increasing the amount of staff,” said Augusta banker Phil Wahl, the chairman of the four-member panel.
The 13-county region including Augusta was one of just three statewide where voters approved the new tax in 2012.
Band 1 kept Augusta’s engineering department extremely busy in recent months, as city staff are assigned to manage 22 of the 34 Augusta projects, Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell said.
The projects consist of four road resurfacings, 15 road projects, eight bridges, five traffic control projects, one involving public transit and two at airports, he said.
Augusta Band 1 projects totaled $97 million, but “blended” projects – using the transportation tax money as well as state or federal funds – bring the total to about $150 million in road construction underway or about to be, Cassell said.
“If you’re frustrated with barrels right now, look out. It’s going to be rough,” he said.
Across the 13-county region, bids have been awarded to contractors in all but two of Band 1’s 49 projects, said Kelvin Mullins, the tax program administrator for the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Bids for those two projects – Robin­son Avenue in Grovetown and Wind­sor Spring Road Phase 5 in Augusta – will be awarded by year’s end, he said.
Traffic was backed up in the busy Fort Gordon suburb Wednesday, but the work on Robinson Avenue, a two-year project, will likely increase congestion, Mullins said.
“It’ll get worse in Grove­town before it gets better,” he said.
Overall, Band 1 projects are $10 million under budgeted amounts, Mullins said.
The tax has raised $174 million, including $44 million distributed to counties for discretionary road spending, he said.
Other Band 1 projects in Columbia County include improvements to Wrightsboro Road around Grovetown and the extension of River Watch Parkway.
Columbia County Com­mis­­sion Chairman Ron Cross called the transportation sales tax program “the best thing that’s happened to us transportation-wise in a number of years.”
State and local officials will celebrate the completion of one of Augusta’s larger projects receiving the tax funds with a ribbon cutting at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
The $21 million Wrights­boro Road expansion project, funded with local, state and federal funds, was the first Band 1 project let to contract in Au­gus­ta and included $1 million from the transportation sales tax.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Susan McCord/Staff Writer

Augusta residents will soon get to experience a treat that has been popular in Huntsville, Ala., for the last 44 years.

Stanleo’s subs will be opening an Augusta location by mid-February of this year at the corner of Walton Way and 11th Street.

Jeff Whitehead, owner of the Augusta location and a family friend of Huntsville owner Connie Ward, has been working closely with the Huntsville location to learn how to replicate the popular sandwiches for the upcoming Augusta location.

When Whitehead, a Lake Oconee resident, was looking at possible expansion locations in Georgia, he settled on Augusta due to its business-friendly climate.

“I am excited about Augusta,” Whitehead said. “There is a lot of growth going on right now. It seems like a great place to open a business.”

However, Whitehead will also be making a few changes to the original restaurant’s name and servings.

The original Huntsville location, Stanlieo’s, was opened in 1971 by Ward’s father, Glenn Watson. Watson felt that the extra “i” gave the sub shop a more Italian feel. But it was easy to miss that small letter.

“When people here spell the restaurant’s name, a lot of people tend to drop the ‘i’, so we gave Jeff permission to remove the ‘i’ for the Augusta location,” Ward said.

In addition to the spelling change, Stanleo’s in Augusta will also add a few new items to the menu. Unlike the Huntsville location, the Augusta location will be offering breakfast sandwiches and blended coffee drinks. The Augusta location will have a drive-thru option as well.

“The drive-thru will also be offering a few of our lunch sandwiches that are quicker to make, but not the full-blown menu,” Whitehead said.

Stanleo’s is one of two new restaurants locating on that corner. Diablo’s Southwest Grill is next door in the same building.

Source: Buzz on Biz
Author: Kelsey Morrow

Job growth in the coming year is expected to be moderate in Georgia, and Augusta’s is to be among the fastest, according to a university forecast released Wednesday.

The overall state is predicted to add 1.8 percent to the number of jobs, about on par with the rest of the country. Augusta will be hiring more quickly at 2.5 percent, according to a quarterly outlook by the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University.
“In recent news, the business-processing-software company ADP announced expansion of its Augusta facility and the creation of 450 new positions,” wrote Rajeev Dhawan, director of the center. “Also in the news, manufacturer GIW, which produces pumps, will build a new facility and add 25 jobs, and Coastal Meats, a poultry-processing firm, will add 115 new jobs.”
Payroll expansion has slowed across the Peach State so far this year, with just 46,500 new jobs compared to 103,900 in the same period of last year.
“A slowdown in the global economy has hindered Georgia’s growth, combined with weaker domestic investment,” Dhawan wrote. “For calendar year 2015, we expect job additions to be 75,100, a gain of 2.5 percent. We expect similar job additions in 2016, an increase of 74,000 positions or 1.8 percent.”
The slowdowns in China and Europe especially hit Georgia’s manufacturing sector and other export-related businesses. For instance, manufacturing gained just 1,700 jobs in the first nine months of 2015, a fraction of the 10,100 added in the same period of last year.
Likewise, the transportation and warehousing sector went from adding 12,000 jobs to just 2,200 in the comparable periods. Ditto for wholesale trade. In the tourism area, the slowdown was not as pronounced.
Continued growth has been in retailing, financial, professional/business services and education/health.
Looking ahead, the forecast calls for practically no growth in manufacturing, a 5.6 percent jump in construction, 2.5 in transportation/warehousing, 1.2 for wholesaling and 4.1 in professional/business services.
In Augusta, employment has been more robust, with the biggest gains in leisure and hospitality, government and retail.
“Net-net: domestic positives are countering the negative global factors, and that reality is evident in Georgia’s income-tax revenue collections that have grown nicely by 8.8 percent in the last nine months, even as job numbers were decelerating,” Dhawan said.
Also Wednesday, the Atlanta Fed released a survey of businesses on their anticipated inflation rate. The average predicted was 1.8 percent.
The 221 firms across the region reported that, on average, the cost of materials they buy for business has risen 1.3 percent over the past year. Also, 57 percent say the profit margins they are enjoying are at or above normal for them.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Walter C. Jones/Morris News Service

Just standing in front of the Miller Theater is enough to take Lee Ann Caldwell down memory lane.

An Augusta native, she spent much of her childhood going to the theater to watch feature films, and she recalls seeing a rendition of the opera Carmen on the theater’s stage. The performance had been scheduled to take place at the much larger Bell Auditorium but had to be moved at the last minute.
“It was one of the most interesting and incredible productions that I had ever seen because they had to make use of the space that was there,” she said.
On Friday, at a street party to celebrate the Miller Theater’s next step toward a renovation, Caldwell said she has renewed hope that a younger generation will be able to create memories of their own at the former downtown staple.
“It could be the beginning of an art renaissance here,” she said.
The event marked the launch of the project’s public funding phase. The Miller Project has reached 80 percent of the money it needs to complete construction, and it’s scheduled to open by fall 2017.
The Miller, which closed in 1984, sat mostly dormant until it was purchased by Peter Knox and offered to Symphony Orches­tra Augusta, which took possession of the building in 2011. Christman Co. has been contracted to complete the restoration.
Project Director Levi Hill IV said Friday’s event sends a strong signal for the revitalization of downtown. Roughly 200 people attended the street party in the 700 block of Broad Street, many of whom used the opportunity to contribute to the project by purchasing Miller Theater merchandise or taking part in the “Take A Seat” campaign, which allows sponsors to have their name on a seat in the newly renovated theater.
“It tells me that Augu­stans are very interested in their city,” Hill said of the turnout. “There are many things that go into creating a city culture, and arts definitely go into that. We hope that our arts project here is going to have a great impact on downtown Augusta.”
Hill said the theater will serve primarily as Symphony Orchestra Augusta’s first permanent home. But with an expected 15 symphony performances a year, the theater will be used for other purposes to complement the Imperial Theatre.
Imperial Theatre Execu­tive Director Charles Sca­vullo, who had a booth at the street party, likened the situation to something he saw in Miracle on 34th Street. In the film, when Santa Claus knew that shoppers couldn’t find what they were looking for at Macy’s, he would direct them to another store.
At 1,300 seats, the Miller would be able to accommodate a larger performance than the Imperial, which has 850 seats, Scavullo said, perhaps giving patrons a performance they wouldn’t be able to experience elsewhere. Both theaters are trumped in size by the 2,500-seat Bell Auditorium.
“It’s a natural progression, and I think it serves the community, downtown and the theater district perfectly by having a variety of different things going on – on both sides of the street,” he said. “We would like to see this part of the neighborhood rise economically, just like the art district did a few blocks up.”

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Travis Highfield/Staff Writer

In twos and threes, employees of Unisys came out of their new riverfront office to eat lunch Tuesday, lining up in front of Enrique Romero’s food truck.

“Unisys is new to the area, but they coming from areas where they have big food truck markets,” Romero said.
Romero let Unisys know his Brown Bag food truck would be parked outside. He has been in the food truck business for four years now and he said his hope is that food trucks will catch on thanks to large companies including Unisys.
The approximately 250 Unisys workers haven’t been downtown very long. The company began moving out of its temporary facility on Claussen Road at the beginning of the month, and employees are now performing their Army help desk IT functions from the old Fort Discovery building on Reynolds Street.
Some of the lunch goers walked across a parking lot to eat at nearby Mi Rancho, which highlights downtown restaurateurs’ enthusiasm for having Unisys in the central business district.
“Now we need the rest of Augusta to step up and give them restaurants to go to and coffee shops to buy coffee. That’s part of the fun of getting this open,” said Tom Patterson, the vice president for Global Security Solutions at Unisys.
The Pennsylvania-based information technology and security firm will eventually have 700 employees, maybe more, serving the Army and private companies from its downtown Augusta office.
Employees have been working since the beginning of the year from a temporary office as the company solidified the Port Royal building on Seventh and Reynolds streets as its permanent home and then renovated inside to accommodate the help desk operation.
Once known as the Shoppes of Port Royal in 1991, the former riverfront shopping center became home of the National Science Center’s Fort Discovery in 1997. The museum closed in 2010, and the space sat vacant until Unisys moved in.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Tim Rausch/Business Editor

John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School was named a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School on Tuesday, earning the reward through stellar student performance on state and national assessments.

Davidson was one of 285 public schools and 50 private schools nationwide to earn Blue Ribbon recognition this year. The reward is given to schools that have overall academic excellence, or to schools that have dramatically decreased achievement gaps among their student populations.
Principal Renee Kelly said she was “so honored” that her school earned the title, crediting “outstanding students” and hardworking teachers for the school’s success. She added that Davidson also received the Blue Ribbon recognition in 2004.
“Everyone has worked so hard here to make sure we’re a high performing school, and without that we would have never received this distinction,” Kelly said. “Our students, staff, families and community all contribute to our ability to perform well and have high academic achievement.”
A small group of Richmond County Board of Education members, central office staff and students gathered outside the school to celebrate, unfurling a banner acknowledging the school’s designation.
Board President Helen Minchew said the school board was “very proud” of Davidson’s performance and that she was “appreciative of the school’s committed students.”
“We are so proud of the fact that Davidson has consistently performed so well they have earned this reward twice,” Minchew said. “You can tell the school’s staff works hard to engage their students, and that commitment pays off.”
Davidson will be recognized during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 9 and 10.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author:Sean Gruber/Staff Writer

Out with the old and in with the new. That’s how Downtown Augusta is shaping up as a new wave of people enjoy business.

There is definitely a change brewing downtown. Old businesses that offered more of a laid back atmosphere are moving out or upgrading and new businesses are opening. All are appealing to a younger, family oriented crowd.

Eric Draper knows all about the change.

“Vibrant, interesting funky downtown,” he said to describe the change.

The buildings may be older, but the people going inside of them are younger with tastes like bacon-coffee ice cream to a more global cuisine bite that keeps changing.

Fuse offers something very different, such as ice cream that is not traditional.

“All of a sudden I put a stew on the menu because it started raining and the temperature dropped a little bit and everybody’s buying it,” said Draper, the Head Chef and Co-Owner at Fuse.

The changing downtown clientele convinced Eric Draper he needed to move south and open Fuse on the corner of 10th and Broad Street.

More family oriented unit of humans coming together and making a funky vibe.

As a new wave shifts in, old places close. But that means more businesses with fresh ideas to attract the new crowd downtown can open up.

If you can wrap your mind around what Lou Hale is offering, Downtown in the Garden City will be all about Archie comic books, Pokemon and a game of Chutes and Ladders or Star Wars.

“End tables that look like dragons. I have chess sets that are pixies versus fairies, just about anything you can imagine. The concept is the claw of the dragon is coming out of your imagination and bringing you back in,” he said. The Dragon’s Claw will hold a grand opening on October 2 at 3:00 p.m. The business can be found here.

You can’t forget about those older restaurants that have become a downtown staple, like Blue Sky Bar & Kitchen. The restaurant’s all Cuban menu has turned into a little something for everybody.

Bartender and server Amber Sterling told us, “The nighttime life is more hip opposed to back in the day when it was more laid back.”

She said now they are appealing to this newer crowd.

“Our appetizer menu, everything is like five dollars. We have fried green tomatoes, spinach and chicken egg rolls. And we’ve added a lot of new games and we try to keep the most recent new beers on tap and bottle,” she explained.

Blue Sky Bar & Kitchen offers more variety to keep up with the changing crowd downtown.

Source: News Channel 6
Author: Renetta DuBose

Four months ago, when water park developers scrapped plans of building the attraction near Grovetown, they vowed it would be located elsewhere in the community, and an announcement Thursday by North Augusta and Aiken County officials saw the first step in that process come to fruition.
A short video announcing the project listed May 2016 as the opening date and detailed a water park with 24 attractions, the tallest water slides and second-largest wave pool in the Southeast, six quick- and full-service restaurants, and a 15,000-square-foot interactive children’s area.
The water park, which officials say is expected to attract between 250,000 and 300,000 annual visitors, would be built on about 40 acres near Exit 5 off Interstate 20 and next to the new Wal-Mart Supercenter on Edgefield Road.
“If 10 percent of the people who attend this park decided to stay an extra day in North Augusta, that 10 percent would represent more than our current city’s population,” said North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones. “This is a huge impact on our city.”
In addition to a 2,000-foot-long lazy river and a 3,200-square-foot wave pool, the proposed water park would boast six “thrill” water slides, including a nearly 120-foot-tall slide, and a wide selection of food, drink and ice cream items, said Andrew Thompson, a partner in the project.
Involved in the planned water park since 2013, Thompson was quick to point out that the attraction will benefit the entire metro area and should not be viewed as a competition among surrounding counties.
Those comments referenced a similar announcement made last year in Columbia County. The man spearheading the water park project, Benjamin Bell, had intended to build the park on about 45 acres he owned off Louisville Road next to his Lights of the South attraction, but he withdrew the proposal after months of discussions with the county’s planning staff over building permits and infrastructure concerns.
When contacted Thursday, Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said the county tried to work with Bell and the other investors to make the project a reality, but there was a basic misunderstanding on Bell’s part in what the county could offer.
“The big thing was that he kept saying we were going to subsidize the project to the tune of $3 (million) or $4 million, and we never made that commitment,” Cross said. “We were just not willing to subsidize that thing with taxpayer money to have it happen.”
Cross also said there were infrastructure and traffic problems with the plan that did not have easy solutions.
“We would have loved to have had a facility like that, but he never had the information on where the water was coming from and how far away it was and there were still issues about the capacity of the septic tanks for the sewer for the number of people out there,” he said. “There were just two or three pages of things that never got answered.”
Thompson said the North Augusta site was ideal to him, Bell and their eight other local partners for its interstate access and central location to nearby cities where they expect to draw visitors. The group is under contract to purchase the parcel and expects to close within a week, Thompson said.
“We are at a crossroads of all the major areas of the CSRA. Geographically, it makes a lot of sense,” said Thompson, calling Scuttle’s Island a destination park. “We hope to positively impact hotels and restaurants in all of our neighboring counties as well as Aiken County.”
The project is expected to cost developers more than $21 million. Scuttle’s Island will create 12 full-time jobs and 93 seasonal positions, according to a fact sheet drafted for the water park.
Park architect David Markey, who has designed multiple aquatic facilities across the country, including Summer Waves at Jekyll Island, Ga., and Splash in the Boro in Statesboro, Ga., said he expects the project to break ground within the next couple of months. The first step in the permitting process will be acquiring a land disturbance permit, he said.
The North Augusta site already has access to water and sewer service and is surrounded by existing commercial development, said city Administrator Todd Glover.
Glover said the city and Aiken County are finalizing what incentives will be offered to developers before it goes before city council members for a final vote. Glover likened the incentive to a no-interest loan that should be paid back by three years.
“They’re going to pay it back over time with a portion of ticket sales,” Glover said. “It wasn’t in the millions or anything like that, but it made sense for us to do it. They’re going to bring between 200,000 to 300,000 people per year. Those people buy gas, eat in our restaurants, shop and stay in our hotels.”
Adding a water park to North Augusta also will help to diversify the city’s economy, Glover said.
“It’s huge for us,” he said. “It shows that we’re not just concentrating on Project Jackson and nothing else.”
Project Jackson, an expansive riverfront mixed-use project with total projected investment approaching $200 million, reached the end of an 18-month lawsuit this summer after the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld a funding ordinance challenged by a North Augusta homeowner.
The public-private project includes a new ballpark for the Augusta GreenJackets, a hotel, shops, restaurants and living space but remains at a standstill until private developers come through on their portion of the deal.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Jenna Martin/Staff Writer

The changeover at The Partridge Inn from independent boutique hotel to a Hilton-affiliated property is officially complete.

The historic Walton Way hotel became the first in Georgia and just the 14th in the country this week to become part of Hilton Worldwide’s Curio boutique brand, which launched in June 2014 and consists of once-independent hotels hand-picked by Hilton for their “character and uniqueness.” The portfolio includes four- and five-star hotels.
Hotel management announced the future partnership with Hilton in January.
General manager Lloyd Van Horn said the property will benefit from increased brand recognition.
“We get the power of being on the world stage from a reservation standpoint, but we retain our local branding and we freshen it up,” he said.
There will likely be re-branding of the P.I. Bar & Grill and new local signage, but Van Horn said he hopes the main changes that guests notice will involve better service and food offerings.
A renovation project has been ongoing at The Partridge Inn since new owners took over the five-story property last fall. In addition to structural repairs and an exterior color change from yellow to ivory, all 144 guest rooms and bathrooms, hallways and the front lobby have received full modern renovations.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Jenna Martin/Staff Writer

As five schools in Rich­mond and Columbia counties begin implementing a new “cybersecurity” career pathway this summer, teachers and students are busy preparing for the new curriculum.

Born out of a partnership with Fort Gordon’s Army Cyber Command, Georgia universities and Augusta’s major school systems, the new pathway is designed to train students in techniques needed to protect military and civilian computer networks. Classes will feature lessons in computer security practices, ethics and programming.

The state Department of Education gave its approval April 2, and classes are scheduled to begin during the fall semester. Students at the Academy of Richmond County, Richmond County Technical Magnet School, Heph­zibah High School, Green­brier High and Grove­town High will attend the first classes based on the new curriculum.

Melissa Clark, the Career, Tech­ni­cal and Agricultural Education administrator for A.R. Johnson Magnet School and Hephzibah High, said the new pathway is meant to prepare students for the workplace of the future.

“Jobs involving computers are the way things are going now,” Clark said. “These are the sort of courses that make sure our students remain competitive in the workforce.”

It’s a perspective some principals are eager to embrace. Richmond Academy Assis­tant Principal Kierstin John­son said her school planned to purchase a computer server and switch specifically for its computer security classes. She said students were “very, very interested” in learning more about the field.

“They want to do more than just be a typical computer user. … They want to learn more about how computers operate in a more real sense,” Kierstin said. “It’s really engaging them … to me, it seems like they know this is their future as far as careers are concerned.”

The courses have brought new challenges.

Greenbrier business and computer science teacher Whitney Poucher helped organize and outfit a computer lab “specifically fit for the course.” She said she needed a classroom designed to give her school’s 180 cybersecurity students the ability to manipulate a network while keeping them from “endangering” the school’s main systems.

“Basically, we’re going to set up a network within a network … a virtual one they can interact with and as they learn,” Poucher said. “They’ll need to be able to change network settings, establish firewalls and other basic security measures.”

Regardless of the work involved, Poucher said her school “desperately needs” classes teaching cybersecurity basics.

“Everything these days is online … and all of that information sent out every day has to be secured by someone. Any field that involves computing needs a security expert, and now we can provide that,” Poucher said. “This is a great way for students to get an introduction to a rapidly growing career field, and it’s definitely needed here.”