Here’s What We Know So Far About Downtown’s New Depot Development
After more than three years of planning and negotiations on a project that just months ago looked like it might be in jeopardy, the city of Augusta, a private developer and the Downtown Development Authority has unveiled the blueprint for one of the biggest developments ever to hit Augusta.
During a presentation at the Augusta Museum of History on Friday, Mike Carpenter, principal of Birmingham-based BLOC Global Development Group, unveiled an ambitious plan for the $93.6 million mixed-use development that will include 10,000 square feet of “class A” office space, 16,000 square feet of retail at the old train depot, a 140-unit apartment complex, greenspace and around 850 parking spots in garages below the apartments and offices.
The project is the largest private investment in downtown Augusta in decades.
“We’ve been dating you for three-and-a-half years,” Margaret Woodard, executive director of the DDA, joked to Carpenter and Retail Specialists executive Rodney Barstein. “Today we got engaged. Hopefully in 270 days, we’ll be at the altar.”
Plans for retail won’t be solidified for a while, but Barstein and Carpenter stressed the importance of the site being designed to attract people of all ages with entertainment, food and culture that would make what has been dubbed “Riverfront at the Depot” a major destination. The goal is that a project of such magnitude would not only incentivize locals to live and seek entertainment downtown, but bring tourists from all over the country who are making a stop in Augusta.
There are a lot of elements of the depot development plan, much of which (especially retail) is bound to change in the coming months and years (the whole development might not be finished for another five years). But today symbolized a major step in the process and signified genuine commitment on the part of the developer as well as the city to make it happen. Here’s what we know about each element of the Riverfront at the Depot so far.
According to renderings (you can watch the video presentation here), BLOC Global has plans for a 140-unit, four-story apartment complex that will lie on the east side of the development, between the renovated depot and the Savannah River. In addition to an unobstructed view of the river, tenants will have direct access to the Riverwalk. A public walkway will connect the complex to the neighboring greenspace, offices and the river.
“What we find with new corporations coming into a city—like Unisys and with cyber—there are a lot of people who are coming from urban areas that would like to have urban living opportunities,” Carpenter said.
Beneath the apartment complex will be a 490-space parking deck for tenants, as well as retail parking and parking support for Unisys.
This will be “Phase 1” of the Riverfront on the Depot development. Woodard said the goal for the groundbreaking has been planned for 270 days from Friday’s reveal.
DDA Vice Chairman Rick Keuroglian said a recent surge in property acquisition around the depot suggests that the complex won’t be the only residential development going up in that area in the coming years.
“What that tells us is more is coming, and the property values will go up,” Keuroglian said. “And people are now saying, ‘I want to buy this, because I can’t get it any cheaper than it is now.’ There will be more apartments built over here. There will be more businesses being developed, so it’s coming this way now.”
Retail and Entertainment
Again, as Barstein mentioned, plans for the retail portion of the development will evolve as the project unfolds. But he did say is that the developer’s vision for the 16,000-foot depot is somewhat inspired by Atlanta’s Ponce City Market and Krog Street Market.
Keuroglian said the development of the retail portion of the site will get underway soon after the “Phase 1” apartment development.
Other possibilities for retail include a brewery, beer garden, and a variety of restaurants (renderings depict a restaurant at the corner of Sixth and Reynolds streets) and shops. An amphitheater is included in the current design.
Renderings of the Riverfront at the Depot also depict a significant amount of greenspace throughout the development, some of which will be dedicated to entertainment. In addition to the train depot, an additional 5,000 square feet of retail space will be available in the area next to the connecting walkway between the apartments and office space.
A video presentation showed a large movie screen in the greenspace in front of the depot designed for family-oriented entertainment. Barstein said one of the goals of Retail Specialists is to create a space that will be dynamic for a wide variety of events almost every weekend.
“I’ve heard some of the commissioners talk about cities like Savannah,” Barstein said. “People want to go to Savannah for vacation. Nobody really wants to go to Augusta for the weekend for vacation. And we want try to make this an opportunity for people who want come to Augusta, have events here that they want to come in for—whether it’s art shows or anything going on in the community—and then just stay downtown, shop downtown, eat downtown.”
The final phase of the Riverfront at the Depot development will be 100,000 square feet of “Class A” office space that will include an approximately 300-space parking garage below it.
“For those who may be working in the cyber area or Unisys, people that want to live downtown can walk to work,” Carpenter said.
High-quality office space is an integral piece of the city’s continued commitment to developing downtown as a cohesive “live, work, play” environment, and the depot project will have all three of those elements.
“We also recognize that with the activity that is taking place with the cyber innovation and training facility on the other end of the Riverwalk, that this could also add a bookend, as Mayor Davis said, to complement everything around the Riverwalk in downtown Augusta,” Carpenter said.
Mayor Davis called it a “transformative project that will cause Augusta to never, ever be the same again.”
Carpenter knows from his own experience that it’s the kind of project that will get Masters tourists to head downtown in the spring instead of camping out on Washington Road.
“I’ve been coming to Augusta since 1994 for the Masters event,” Carpenter said. “I never went further down Washington Road than the gates to the Augusta National. And it was Ms. Woodard who convinced Retail Specialists and our firm to come to downtown Augusta and take a look at downtown and see the opportunities that could exist. And she introduced us to this depot project that I think Mayor Davis indicated has been sitting idle for 50 years. It’s just a wonderful opportunity. And rarely do we see sites like that have been idle or so long.”