Yearly Archives: 2016

Rafik “Rafy” Bassali started buying vacant downtown properties three years ago. The 29-year-old owner of the local boutique chain The Swank Company says he couldn’t figure out why more business people weren’t snapping up real estate in the city center.

“It seemed to me the properties were way undervalued, given that Broad Street is always going to be Broad Street,” he said. “That’s where people are always going to be. At least new people – they’re always going to check out downtown first.”

Bassali’s latest acquisition, a 30,000-square-foot former furniture store at 1051 Broad St., will either house his third Swank store or be divided into smaller portions and leased to commercial tenants.

Augusta real estate developer John Engler sees similar potential in the central business district. That’s why he and his family-owned partnership are investing millions to build a five-story Hyatt House hotel at 1268 Broad St., a 1-acre parcel occupied for years by a vacant bank branch.

“We saw there was a need for a new hotel on upper Broad,” Engler said, referring to the success of the three-year-old Holiday Inn Express at the opposite end of the downtown corridor. “With all the growth that has been going on downtown, we saw there was a gap that needed to be filled.”

Local business and community leaders say the influx of investment from business people such as Bassali and Engler is building the “critical mass” that has been needed for years to shift downtown revitalization into high gear.

“There’s comfort and safety in numbers, and I think that’s what we’ve seen begin to happen here downtown,” said Doug Cates, a board member of the private downtown planning group Augusta Tomorrow. “Once everyone sees that people are interested and are going to do something, they became more willing to do something.”

In years past, Bassali and Engler’s investments would have generated a lot of attention on their own. But thanks to a slew of major public and private investments in the central business district during the past 18 months, they are just bullet points on a list that seems to grow larger every month.

Besides Engler’s project, there are plans for a 125-room hotel at Reynolds Street and James Brown Boulevard, where Augusta Riverfront LLC – owner of the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center – is developing a limited-service hotel on a half-acre parcel diagonally across from the convention center complex. A few blocks away, on the 1100 block of Broad Street, are five parcels – including the former Sky City department store – that were purchased over the fall by a South Carolina-based hotel group that officials expect will announce development plans early next year.

And across the river in North Augusta, community leaders are in late-stage preparations for a $183 million, Augusta GreenJackets stadium-anchored development that will include retail shops, office buildings and a 200-room hotel.

Cates, a partner in the Cherry Bekaert LLP accounting firm, says the current level of downtown revitalization is “more than we had in 30 or 40 years.”

“For a lot of years, really since almost the ‘80s up until two or three years ago, we all had a great desire for something to happen downtown, but the truth is, there wasn’t anything to work with,” he said.

All this occurs at a time when the nation’s two largest demographic groups – millennials and baby boomers – are increasingly trading suburban jobs and homes for urban ones.

“This is the first time in 30 years we’ve had this amount of private sector investment in our city, which I think is phenomenal,” Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis said. “We’ve moved beyond a place of calling Augusta a city of potential to a city where things are taking place.”

Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Margaret Woodard said residential real estate in particular has become a hot commodity; occupancy rates on traditional loft apartments hover around 95 percent.

She also said the central business district is running out of readily available retail space. Nearly all that’s left are a handful of former department stores and other large “white elephant”-type buildings that are too large for boutiques, salons, restaurants and other popular downtown establishments.

Sean Wight, the owner of Frog Hollow Hospitality Group, which operates the downtown restaurants Craft & Vine, Farmhaus and Frog Hollow, said historic property tax credits are useful at minimizing downtown entrepreneurs’ investment risks, but he pointed out during a recent Augusta Tomorrow meeting that many potential investors wouldn’t qualify. He advocated for a larger portfolio of incentives.

“Maybe we could get tax breaks from the city to help the smaller, 1,000-square-foot shop become financially viable,” he said. “A lot of places get historic grants, but there are a lot of places that don’t.”

While restaurants and specialty retail are thriving downtown, office space is a different matter. Although tech giant Unisys has received attention for completing the build-out of 74,000 square feet of high-tech office space in the Discovery Plaza building to house its 700-employee customer service and security support operation, the majority of downtown professional space is no longer considered “class A.” Much of it is in need of substantial renovation to become “move-in ready.”

The authority’s recently completed study of downtown professional buildings showed the central business district’s 1.47 million square feet of space is nearly 25 percent vacant. A similar study of residential – and potential residential – space is underway, Woodard said. An inventory of in-fill properties – such as the vacant lot formerly occupied by the WJBF-TV building on Reynolds Street – will soon follow.

Much of the demand for additional retail services stems from the increase in downtown residents, fueled by an uptick in loft apartment construction and increased student housing at Augusta University’s Health Sciences Campus. By way of comparison, Columbia, widely regarded as having a thriving downtown, has about 4,500 market-rate units in its downtown. Augusta has about 225.

“One of the key components of any downtown revitalization is residential,” said Erick Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta Inc., which has worked with residential developers to secure historic preservation tax credits on certain buildings.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Damon Cline/Business Editor

It’s a plan to revolutionize the way many see the city of Augusta.  Private investors helping to transform the Garden City one innovator, and one downtown block at a time.

From the outside, the Johnson Building and old Woolworth’s department store that sit on the corner of 8th and Broad Streets look like just your average buildings. But what’s about to transform on this block and inside of them is anything but.

“Continually when we have the cyber conferences and technology conferences, people repeatedly say you need a destination downtown and you need live, work and play space for millenials, so we will have an entire block of that next year,” said Deke Copenhaver, Co-founder of the Augusta Innovation Zone.

It’s called the Augusta Innovation Zone.

“In the same sense that Google or Apple have innovative campuses that allow people to kind of have free reign to be ‘intrapreneurs’ is what they call it. Like I want to create things inside of my company, this is going to give people the opportunity to come and be surrounded by people who have similar aspirations,” said Tommy Wafford, Co-founder of the Augusta Innovation Zone.

The first floor will be 17,000 square feet for co-working space – plus a test lab for companies like Snapchat and IBM. The rooftop will be transformed into a place to enjoy a new nightlife experience downtown.

“You can put a stage here or what not, or put a bar and restaurant inside of here. So it can really be anything that we want it to,” said George Claussen, Co-founder of the Augusta Innovation Zone.

The Johnson Building will have retail shops on the 1st floor and high end lofts on the 2nd.

“Since we have both buildings, we’ll be able to create some really cool lighting that we’re working on and other visual effects. You’ll have a total alley way here on 8th street,” said John Cates, Co-founder of the Augusta Innovation Zone.

“There’s going to be a need for more restaurants, more retail, and to accommodates people working and living in this block,” said Copenhaver.

“The Augusta Innovation Zone is a concept about being altruistic, being inclusive, being a way to bring in anybody’s idea and help blow that into something that’s really big and on a national scale,” said Tom Patterson, Co-founder of the Augusta Innovation Zone.

The first phase is set to be complete Masters Week.

The whole project is slated for completion towards the end of 2017.

Source: News Channel 6
Author: Barclay Bishop

Deonte Moses came to Augusta three years ago from Baltimore to attend Paine College, but the senior could be sticking around after graduation.

“It’s a place I could see myself living for the next 10-15 years,” he said. For one, the nice house he is renting in North Augusta would cost two to three times as much in his native Baltimore.

“For somebody like me, cheaper is better,” he said.

That affordability could be one factor in why Augusta has gained millennials while other places in the South and in Georgia, such as Atlanta, are losing them. Millennials ages 18-34 now make up the largest generation in America.

An analysis of Census Bureau data from 2005 to 2015 by the online rental marketplace Apartment List found Augusta had an adjusted gain of 5.8 percent in its millennial population, compared with declines of 6.3 percent in Atlanta, 5.9 percent in Athens, 12.8 percent in Macon, 13.8 percent in Albany and 20.8 percent in Rome.

Others gaining millennial population in Georgia include Savannah, with a 27.3 percent increase, and Columbus, with a 12.5 percent gain.

Although Athens shows an overall loss, that actually occurred in the first part of the analysis and since 2010 there has been a rapid increase, said Andrew Woo, a data scientist for Apartment List. Overall, cities in the South and the Midwest tended to do worse among millennials, he said. Part of that is jobs.

“Overall the trend – and this ties in with some of our survey data, as well – is that, for young adults in particular, strong job markets are a big attraction,” Woo said. “They tend to be more geographically mobile. Many of them are still early in their careers so they are looking for places that offer them good professional opportunities.”

Augusta might be among the exceptions in that it showed millennial growth while its median income slightly declined, by 3.1 percent, to $49,721. The area might be helped by having a university, which can provide a couple of benefits to millennials, Woo said.

“It provides an ongoing supply of young adults who move into the area,” he said. “Often, many of them will choose to stay, at least for a few years, especially if the job market is good. The other thing is that there is a bit of a self-reinforcing effect there where if the college draws in and trains an educated workforce that can provide a virtuous cycle where it contributes to the local job economy and encourages people to stay as a result.”

That makes sense to Shelby Amanda Lee, 24, who grew up in Waynesboro before moving to Augusta, where she went to school. The area offers a good art scene, especially downtown, that she and her friends enjoy, she said.

“There are really good coffeehouses to hang out in,” and people are friendly, she said. “This is a really good place just to settle into.”

When Kirsten Valentine moved to the Augusta area from Upstate New York to be with her parents, who were stationed at Fort Gordon, the area’s charms were not apparent.

“When I first moved here I thought there wasn’t that much going on here just because that’s how it seemed initially,” said Valentine, 25. “With the downtown scene starting to grow, I’ve definitely seen leaps and bounds on that over the past two years.”

Now six years in, and having recently started a new job at one of the larger employers in ADP, Valentine said she could see herself staying for at least the next five years.

“I kind of just made this my home and adopted it as such,” she said.

Another thing that could be helping Augusta is affordability, especially compared to metro areas like Atlanta and Miami that are losing millennials, Woo said.

“There is that question of, if millennials leave Atlanta, where do they go?” Woo said. Some will likely move to other metro areas, like Dallas or Los Angeles, he said. “But there are a lot of them who will end up staying in Georgia and moving to other areas, other cities in Georgia that are affordable and have other options that they find attractive. That could be part of what you are seeing there in Augusta, as well.”

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Tom Corwin


The Pentagon’s announcement to move Army Cyber Command to Fort Gordon – Dec. 19, 2013 – was a ground-shaking event.

Now, nearly three years later, it’s time for the groundbreaking event.

On Tuesday, local, state and federal officials will join senior Army leaders in ceremonially starting construction on the first phase of a 324,000-square-foot facility for those charged with defending America’s most critical military asset: its data network.

And, when necessary, those cyberwarriors can attack, “delivering effects against our adversaries in and through cyberspace,” Lt. Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, Army Cyber Command and Second Army commander said during a ceremony in October when he took over from Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon.

The new three-star general, along with the installation’s other top brass, were not available for comment during the short Thanksgiving week. But all will attend the invitation-only event Tuesday to join Army Secretary Eric Fanning in celebrating the start of construction on what the Army is calling the “Army Cyber Command Complex.”

The long-awaited event signals the tangible arrival of the newest and fastest-growing of the Army’s nine commands, which regional officials say has potential to make Augusta the nation’s epicenter for 21st century warfare and a hotbed of cyber research and development.

“For so long folks have been talking about when we would have Army Cyber Command coming,” says Tom Clark, executive director of the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon. “And now we will have shovels in hands and begin this momentous task of actually bringing it to Augusta.”

The complex will be constructed in two phases. The $85.1 million, 179,000-square-foot first phase is slated for completion in May 2018 for Army Cyber Command, which is known numerically as the Second Army and is also responsible for providing information assistance to “boots on the ground” personnel in active warzones.

Said Nakasone: “We are at the forefront of one of the most transformative times in our Army’s history, operating in a dynamic and challenging domain that is revolutionizing the way our Army fights and wins.”

The second phase, scheduled for completion in early 2019, will house the Army Cyber Protection Brigade, which maintains and defends the nation’s defense networks; and the post’s joint-force operations, which include Navy, Air Force and Marines’ cyber and intelligence personnel.

The combined Army Cyber Command Complex will have space for more than 1,200 soldiers and civilian contractors by late 2020, greatly expanding the small task force of cyber personnel currently on post.

Birmingham, Ala.-based B.L. Harbert International LLC was awarded the phase one construction contract in August.

The top-secret complex, situated in the installation’s “west district” near the corner of Lane Avenue and 15th Street, will be co-joined to another top-secret structure: the National Security Agency’s 600,000-square-foot cryptologic center.

The NSA intelligence-gathering facility, also known as the John Whitelaw Building and simply “NSA Georgia,” is said to employ 4,000 people who intercept and decipher communications from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. It opened, officially, in early 2012.

The presence of the Whitelaw building, along with the base’s other tech- and cyber-related military tenants, helped the Defense Department choose Augusta as Army Cyber’s location over metro Washington D.C.’s Fort Meade, Md., which is home to NSA headquarters. Local economic development officials say the Augusta area’s military-friendly history and low-cost/high-quality-of-life helped seal the deal.

“This community has galvanized into action and accomplished many things in just a few years,”Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce President Sue Parr said, noting that local high schools, colleges and universities have embedded cyber into their curricula while fledgling business incubators and accelerators have focused their efforts in the information security realm.

Though several components of Fort Gordon’s new cyber focus have already arrived – including the Cyber Center of Excellence, a training and doctrine “school” for cyber soldiers – the arrival of Cyber Command itself has united the disparate parts of the metro area in a way that hasn’t been seen since the fort was targeted in 2005 as part of the national base closure and realignment program.

“Clearly, we are well on our way to developing the business culture and the human capital it takes to be a world-class technology mecca,” Parr said.

From a macro view, Fort Gordon’s new cyber missions are expected to create 4,700 military and civilian positions. Counting spouses and other family members, the Army estimates a total of 13,000 new residents in the metro area by 2020, about 2,400 of whom will be school-age children.

However, officials expect a high percentage of D.C.-area civilian cyberworkers won’t relocate with the command, which could free up 570 civilian government positions and 150 contractor jobs up for grabs to qualified locals in the near term.

In the long term, $1.3 billion to $2 billion in construction spending – which includes replacing 30- to 50-year-old classrooms for the Cyber Center of Excellence – is expected to flow to Fort Gordon during the next decade, primarily in the westside cyber zone.

The growth is expected to boost the fort’s employment 250 to 375 employees per year during the next 20 years, which is why local economic developments officials are pushing the regional economic development initiative known as the “Fort Gordon Cyber District.”

The seven-county, two-state effort is designed to develop and attract the nation’s top cybersecurity talent and turn the metro area into a hub of technology and innovation, similar to how missile and propulsion research turned Huntsville, Ala., into a tech town a generation ago.

Several defense contractors already have established offices in the area, including MacAulay-Brown Inc., Saber Systems Inc., IntelliGenesis LLC and Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., joining longtime contractors such as Raytheon and the city’s single-largest cyber contractor – Unisys Corp., whose downtown offices are gearing up to employ at least 750 workers, about 100 of whom support army email and IT functions worldwide.

Jennifer Napper, a Unisys vice president who handles Defense Department and intelligence agency business in Washington, said her company and others will grow along with the fort’s cyber-related enterprises. How much depends on how the community coalesces to create a fertile environment for a cyber workforce.

“It’s really the community that keeps driving all these businesses there,” she said, adding that recent initiatives to improve entry-level cyber education in local schools can help create workers who can transition into higher-skill/high-wage cyber security positions. “All of those things combined is what’s driving more business to the area.”

Napper herself is an example of a high-skill cyber professional moving to the area. She has a home currently under construction in Augusta, where she spent several years during her career in the Army, from which she retired three years ago as major general of the Network Enterprise Technology Command.

The cyber industry’s average annual salaries are $115,000, and the sector is expected to grow 20 percent during the next decade, according to figures presented to Columbia County officials.

Clark says Army Cyber Command planting its flag in Augusta is simply the biggest economic development event in decades.

“Cyber Command is absolutely significant to the growth of the region and truly making this Fort Gordon Cyber District come to life,” he said.

Augusta officials reflected on the legacy of families who for decades made their home in the city’s urban core at a Thursday groundbreaking.

The “Legacy at Walton Green” is going up at the site of Sunset Homes, the 1937-era federal housing project on 15th Street later renamed Cherry Tree Crossing. It’s a second partnership between Augusta Housing Authority and Walton Communities, which built the Legacy at Walton Oaks on Sandbar Ferry Road.

Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta, grew up nearby and recalled carrying five loaves of bread from the adjacent Colonial Bread store while riding his bicycle – “You learned to ride with no hands,” he said.

His family socialized with many at the 15th Street complex – the Welchers, the Holmes – who went on to become leaders in the community, Howard said.

“There is so much in these grounds – not so much the housing and the homes we lived in, but the grounds,” he said. “This is where God placed us and we can’t forget that.”

Mayor Hardie Davis praised the partnerships that made the new development possible. City funds and planning will help make it walkable, Davis said.

“So many great Augustans have grown up here, in the inner city,” the mayor said.

Housing Authority Chairman Rodger Murchison asked for hands of those who’d been born or raised there. Several went up.

“Not Cherry Tree, Sunset,” Donald Hill called out.

A longtime caddie at Augusta National Golf Club and Sage Valley, Hill said he’d been born at Sunset in 1950 and lived there until his late 20s.

Construction is set to begin immediately on the complex of at least 410 units. Murchison said a first 80 units will be for seniors, 55 and older, and begin leasing next year. The second 250 units will be for families, a third phase will include 80 more senior units, while 15 percent of the apartments will be public housing, he said.

“Just because we’ve made a change here, doesn’t mean that home can’t be built again,” Murchison said. “We’re proud to be part of home-making in Augusta.”

The new criteria mean former Cherry Tree residents now spread around the city and beyond may not qualify to live there. Some 355 Cherry Tree families relocated before demolition started in 2014.

The family units will be available to those earning higher incomes, between 60 and 80 percent of the area median income.

City Housing and Community Development Director Hawthorne Welcher said his father, former Laney High School principal Hawthorne Welcher, and uncles grew up in the complex. The department pushed to include the area in its Urban Redevelopment Plan to improve Walton Communities’ application for tax credits, he said.

The development means the area will soon again be teeming with people. Augusta University recently opened new dormitories just across the 15th Street bridge. Between the two, Welcher’s department is partnering with a private developer on a 221-unit mixed-use development called Foundry Place.

Augusta’s decision to program millions of Transportation Investment Act dollars into the downtown streetscape hits a milestone this week with the release of concept drawings showing a radically altered downtown.

Going for public review at three meetings scheduled this week, the images reveal a transformation of Broad, 13th and Sixth streets to pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares united by common features such as brickwork, lighting, signs, street trees. Two different drawings for each street are included.

For Broad Street, “a destination to transform downtown life,” each concept drawing eliminates the unpopular sunken median parking wells designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei in the 1970s and replaces them with street-level parking surrounding new features in the median.

Concept 1 shows a “central park zone” in the median between Seventh and 10th streets of gardens and other park space and increases overall parking on Broad from 825 to 870 spaces. Concept 2 shows public spaces such as a biergarten, urban plaza and boardwalk through the median, but decreases the number of spaces from 825 to 722.

Each 13th Street concept drawing shows a dramatic “gateway zone” greeting visitors with a landscaped median as they enter downtown from South Carolina. Concept 1 provides a “gracious welcome” with an arch over the road stating “Augusta” in script, while Concept 2 reveals an “iconic gateway” with a tower proclaiming the city name and festive brickwork. Historic trails are marked, and the John Calhoun Expressway underpass is adorned either with public art or history features.

MORE: Scroll to the bottom of the story to download the concept art. Note files are as large as 160MBs.

Seven blocks away, the Sixth Street concepts each attempt to beautify the rail line that intersects the road and enhance the road’s end at Riverwalk Augusta. Concept 1’s theme is “celebrate the railroad” and shows grassed-over train tracks lined with planted beds and a curb. Parallel parking on Sixth Street is eliminated, while Concept 2 retains parallel parking with a simpler curb around the tracks.

The plans are the work of Cooper Carry, an Atlanta landscape architect firm that’s been on hand for more than a year, and several subconsultants brought on board to help.

The firm also developed the Downtown Development Authority’s plan to revamp Riverwalk Augusta, which includes two arches marking entrances to the riverfront park. Cooper Carry has hired AMEC Foster Wheeler, the city’s consultant on its stormwater utility fee program, to provide engineering services on the downtown plan.

Gary Warner, associate principal with Cooper Carry, said the streets are three of seven downtown for which the firm is creating concepts to present to the public.

Work on a James Brown Boulevard concept also is complete, and “after next week, we come back with the other three streets,” Warner said.

“We present those concepts, sit down with the city and figure out what the final plan is,” he said. “We probably still have another year, eight months of work before any dirt starts to turn.”

The other downtown streets are Fifth, Greene and Telfair.

The Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce is holding a preview of the concept plans Monday ahead of two public sessions Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Your input is vitally important as these projects continue to move forward,” Chamber President Sue Parr said.

The discussion will extend beyond the plan drawings and cover policy issues such as parking management, traffic circulation and lighting. Cooper Carry hasn’t made a recommendation about the need for parking meters.

A team also has worked with the Augusta Museum of History to recommend interpretive history components.

The downtown projects are among the city’s largest expenditure of Transportation Investment Act funds, the 1 percent sales tax that expires in 2023 and totals more than $83 million. The most costly downtown street project is Broad at almost $25 million, followed by Telfair at $19 million.

Augusta’s decision to dedicate TIA resources to sidewalks and other streetscape features sets it apart from other jurisdictions that tend to focus on traditional roadwork.

“Predominantly a lot of TIA work is structural rehabilitation,” said Karen Judd, communications director for the program. “Something that Augusta should be praised on it has put a lot of attention to what happens when you get out of your car. Transit, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, all that is a mode of transportation, and makes it safer for drivers as well.”

Unlike previous downtown plans, the TIA project has a guaranteed funding source if it adheres to state guidelines.

All projects must be developed and under contract by the time the TIA expires, at 10 years or when collections reach a target amount, Judd said.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle

Eight months after its board approved it, University Hospital finally has the state permission to go forward on a much-needed expansion of its Emergency Department.

Part of that will be a separate unit for patients with behavioral health needs, which is a growing problem for emergency care nationwide. Other Augusta hospitals have expanded their ERs or will soon.

University has already begun a complex series of moves with other departments to free up space for its $30 million renovation, which will be accomplished in phases over three years. The expansion will allow it to go from 55 to 78 treatment spaces and accommodate up to 106,000 patient visits a year, said CEO Jim Davis. The last major renovation, which was in 2003, created capacity for about 54,000 visits a year and this year the department was projected to serve about 85,000. This is on top of the patients who are visiting the hospital’s Prompt Cares for less serious medical problems, Davis said. So not only are there more patients but they tend to be sicker as well, he said.

“It’s probably the aging of the population,” Davis said. “People are living longer, coming in with multiple problems. That just makes it more demanding on our caregivers.”

That includes an increase in behavioral health, a trend that is happening across the country, he said. A recent survey of emergency room physicians presented last month at the American College of Emergency Physicians annual meeting found that three-fourths saw at least one patient per shift who needed to be hospitalized for psychiatric reasons and 21 percent said those patients were waiting anywhere from two to five days to find a bed.

“Mental health disorders, not just in Augusta, not just in Georgia but across the country, are a big problem,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, the place of last resort is the local hospital’s Emergency Room.”

Due to a “massive influx” of those patients, Trinity Hospital of Augusta renovated two rooms in its Emergency Department earlier this year just for psychiatric patients, spokeswoman Leanna Wanta said. At University, one of the “pods” it is creating will be for behavioral health and it will be separate from the other units, Davis said.

“Sometimes, those patients have special safety concerns,” he said. “Putting them in a routine Emergency Room patient cubicle really isn’t ideal for those patients.”

When AU Medical Center expanded its Emergency Department in 2009, it created a separate behavioral health unit for those patients. Like University, Doctors Hospital of Augusta has filed for state permission to nearly double the number of rooms in its Emergency Department, said Dr. Mark Newton, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Doctors. The hospital’s request for a Certificate of Need is pending and a decision is due Dec. 21, according to a state tracking report.

The $19.8 million expansion would increase the number of beds from 26 to 46 while still keeping the same efficient care the hospital has been working to refine, he said. The ED was expected to see about 65,000 patients this year and has been working on keeping its wait times down to a minimum even as patients require more complex care, Newton said.

“People are sicker when they come to the Emergency Department,” he said. “They expect and deserve prompt service.”

At University, the new units or pods will be designed in a kind of ring around a central work area, with patients and families entering through the outside and staff accessing the room from the inner ring, which will cut down on the time and distance to reach the patients.

“It’s just a more efficient use of your staff,” Davis said. “We’ve tried to design this so that the caregivers use as few steps as possible to get from patient to patient.

The pod design also allows the hospital to bring units online as needed throughout the day, he said.

The ER will remain open during the renovation with roughly the same number of beds it has now to limit the disruption on patient care, and while it has been envisioned for three years, the hospital hopes it will actually be about 30 months, Davis said. Limiting disruption there is important because about half the patients admitted to University come through the ER, and about 25 percent of all patients who come to the ER are admitted to the hospital, which is more than double the national average of around 12 percent.

“It’s a huge access point for our organization,” Davis said.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Tom Corwin/Staff Writer


An Augusta-based investment group announced Wednesday it will build a Hyatt House hotel on the 1200 block of Broad Street — the second major downtown hotel announcement this week and Broad Street’s first new business-class hotel in decades.

Construction on the five-story, limited-service hotel — which will have its own 140-space parking deck — could start as soon as December, said John Engler of DTJR LLC, a partnership between he and his mother Elizabeth Engler.

Engler also was involved in developing the Hyatt Place hotel near the Wheeler Road exit on Interstate 20 earlier this year.

The more upscale Hyatt House, which would have at least 100 rooms and possibly as many as 117, would sit on the nearly 1-acre site at 1268 Broad Street currently occupied by the former Capitol City Bank & Trust branch.

Engler said he chose the site partly because of its proximity to the 13th Street corridor, which he says is the premiere gateway to the city center.

“I’m really bullish on everything that is happening in downtown,” he said, citing the expansion of Augusta University, the influx of tech-related businesses downtown and improvements along the North Augusta riverfront. “We think there is a great opportunity for a new hotel with an urban feel.”

Engler declined to disclose his investment in the project, but property records show his limited liability company acquired the land in August for $700,000.

Dennis Trotter of Jordan Trotter Commercial Real Estate, which brokered the transaction, said the project has the potential to be “transformational” for Broad Street.

“It is good to see this kind of private investment in downtown,” he said. “It’s a good project that will attract other good things.”

The parcel is book-ended to the east by the Capps Insurance Agency, and to the west by the Frog Hollow restaurant. It directly faces the former Planned Parenthood building, which closed earlier this year and is in the process of being sold.

Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Margaret Woodard said the hotel will have the same effect on Broad Street’s west end that the Holiday Inn Express renovation did to the east end a few years ago.

“And there will be a retail component to it, which we’re excited about,” Woodard said.

Engler said ground-floor retail tenants have not been identified, but are typically offices, limited-service eateries and coffee houses.

Hyatt Houses typically have full-service hotel bars and room rates that average $150 a night.

The hotel is being designed by Augusta’s Dickinson Architects and built by Augusta-based ACC Construction, Engler said.

Barry White, CEO of the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the expansion of the city’s convention center at the downtown Marriott a few years ago and overall downtown business growth has increased demand for such a hotel.

“It’s definitely a quality product, catering to the business traveler and high-end leisure traveler,” he said.

The Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, built as a Radisson in 1992, was expanded in 2001. The only new hotel rooms added in the central business district since then came from the 118-room Holiday Inn Express renovation in 2014.

On Tuesday, Augusta Riverfront LLC, the company that owns the Augusta Marriott and manages the city-owned convention center, unveiled plans for a new 125- to 130-room hotel at Reynolds and Ninth streets on a site formerly occupied by the Augusta Police Department. The yet-to-be branded hotel will connect to the convention center parking deck via pedestrian bridge.

White said the additional rooms will enable downtown to accommodate more visitors which, in turn, will boost overall commerce.

“The convenience of having additional rooms downtown that are similar in quality to the Marriott will be an advantage,” he said.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle
Author: Damon Cline/Business Editor

It’s the minor details that distinguish North Augusta development

Roundabouts, golf carts and even boat docks are some of the subtleties associated with the North Augusta Ballpark Village, previously code named Project Jackson.

The potential amenities were part of a video presentation of the mixed-use development unveiled to the media last week.

Although exact details are still being ironed out, North Augusta officials and private developers said the video is an accurate representation of what the more than 35-acre development will look like.

“It’s going to be a terrific environment,” said Chris Schoen with Greenstone Properties, and also a partner in the Augusta GreenJackets, which plans to move to the North Augusta development by 2018.

The nearly three-minute video whisks viewers above and through the streets of the development, which in addition to a new minor league baseball stadium, will include 70,000 square feet of retail space, a new hotel, a conference center and other amenities.

North Augusta City Administrator Todd Glover said the City is in talks with a hotel operator. The name of the hotelier will be announced sometime after third reading of the master development agreement, which could come as soon as November.

The hotel will be situated across the street from the baseballs stadium, with upper floors overlooking the stadium from the first base/right field side of the stadium. Behind home plate is an office building with an apartment building and fitness complex located behind the left field fence.

The stadium itself, titled GreenJackets Park in the video, is modeled after the San Francisco Giants’ home stadium. The GreenJackets are a Class A advance affiliate of the Giants.

In right field, the stadium has a home run porch which ties into a restaurant that connects to a beer garden.

Aside from baseball, the development will feature several restaurants, many of which have been identified pending final reading of the master development agreement.

“We’ve increased the densities, but we’ve massaged it in such a manner that we have all the best aspects of a mixed-development,” Schoen said.

Glover did say the City was in talks with Tupelo Honey, a Southern-cuisine restaurant chain based in Asheville, North Carolina, but Tupelo Honey opted not to add a Project Jackson location.

Several new roads, some connected via roundabouts, will be paved within the development. There also will be parallel parking along Railroad Avenue.

North Augusta officials and private developers confirmed parking will be metered. Project Jackson also includes a parking deck which will consist of paid parking as well, according to Council documents.

Another unique feature to Project Jackson is that there will be limited accessibility by boat via the Savannah River. Glover said the City received a grant for an eight-slip boat dock.

The dock, according to the video, will be near a large riverside amphitheater suitable for small concerts and live entertainment.

Also shown on the video are golf carts meandering through the development. Schoen said the intention is for there to be golf cart traffic, pending City Council approval.

Pending third reading, some elements of Project Jackson are expected to break ground as early as January 2017, according to Council documents.

Augusta Riverfront LLC on Tuesday announced plans to build a new downtown hotel adjacent to the Augusta Convention Center after city commissioners approved leasing the hotel parking spaces and funding construction of a pedestrian bridge.

“I said a long time ago, we’re changing downtown Augusta,” said Paul Simon, president of Augusta Riverfront. “This will be the center of town, right here at Ninth and 10th and Reynolds streets.”

The company, which owns the nearby Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center and operates the city-built Augusta Convention Center and its parking garage, shares management with Morris Communications, parent company of The Augusta Chronicle. It is the third hotel built by Augusta Riverfront LLC.

The new 125- to 130-room hotel at Reynolds and Ninth, which is now known as James Brown Boulevard, will be at the site of the former city jail being demolished. It will connect across James Brown to the convention center parking deck via a pedestrian bridge.

Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved constructing at city expense a second pedestrian bridge over Reynolds Street, connecting the parking deck to the convention center plus the lease of 100 second-floor spaces for hotel guests.

Under the agreement, the hotel will pay Augusta the monthly rate of $65 for each space, or $78,000 per year, for at least four years, and the city will pay for construction of the Reynolds Street pedestrian bridge, up to $1.15 million.

Simon, who worked closely with City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson on the project, said the commission has become more friendly since seeing the convention center’s successes and growth downtown.

“They understand that the project has been a success and we are bringing in conventions, and the beneficiary is the city,” including an economic impact this year of more than $16 million, Simon said.

Jackson said a new hotel will boost the convention center and deck, which she called “two of Augusta’s most significant public investments.”

“The parking deck in particular, has been underutilized, and this project presents an opportunity to add to our parking revenues and bring another attractive asset to downtown,” she said. “This also further allows Augusta to capitalize and expand upon the success of our tourism efforts.”

Mayor Hardie Davis said a second convention center hotel is a positive addition to downtown.

“From a partnership perspective, the city saw it was extremely important for us to be a partner,” Davis said. “When you look at the number of events we’re hosting at the (convention) center, additional beds is a good thing for the city of Augusta.”

Commissioner Bill Fennoy, who represents the area, called the agreement “a good deal” beneficial to the government. “We get something out of it,” he said.

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