Condos and Retail Space Project Planned for Augusta, Ga.

Feb. 1--High-rise condos and new retail planned for the National Hills shopping center have yet to get a green light.

But that isn't stopping current business owners of the shopping strip from planning ahead.

The current proposal for the Washington Road property calls for two seven-story condominium towers built on top of more than 75,000 square feet of retail space. Preliminary plans for the $120-million-plus project also call for two stand-alone restaurants totalling more than 10,000 square feet, and a 9,700-square-foot enclosed pavilion on the east side of the 15-acre lot.

Completing the project would involve demolishing most of the 44-year-old strip and building the new structures closer to the road, in alignment with the existing Fresh Market grocery, said Rick Martin, president of Atlanta-based Kennedy Capital Group LLC, which is developing the property.

Mr. Martin said a mixed bag of 30 businesses has been compiled as a wish list of tenants for the center. He did not disclose names.

Four existing businesses at the shopping center are in talks to remain there: the Somewhere in Augusta Bar & Grill, Shoe Studio, Fresh Market and Executive Marketing Services Inc.

Somewhere in Augusta likely will move into one of the stand-alone restaurant spaces, owner Chris Cheek said.

Shoe Studio owner David Pulling said he is exercising his right to a long-term lease, and that he believes the proposed plan will improve business at the shopping center.

"They'll have very strong retail tenants overall, and it's always been an excellent location," he said.

However, not all the businesses may be there when construction is expected to begin in August 2007.

Fred Powers, owner of Powers Piano, said he is glad the old center is going to be demolished because it gets him out of the lease.

"I don't think the center is what it used to be," he said. "It gives me a chance to go somewhere else." Simon's Formal Wear owner Allan Barrett said if the project happens he's going to have to go.

"I'd like to stay in the area," he added. "A lot of our business comes from North Augusta and the Hill." Sally Beauty Supply also is looking for a new location, possibly nearby, store manager Bonnie Bohannon said. The store's lease is up in 2007.

The National Hills Dillard's will relocate to the Village at Riverwatch project scheduled for a 2007 opening, manager Jim Saul said. The nearby Dillard's Home Store closed last week after the lease expired while the The Dillard's Big & Tall store is scheduled to remain open until the Dillard's move to River Watch Parkway.

On Feb. 20, Rick Martin is scheduled to go before the Richmond County zoning board of adjustment to discuss a possible height variance that may be required.

Initially, Mr. Martin proposed a 197-foot tall condominium tower that exceeded the 105-foot limit set by the ordinance. He has since reduced the height to 105 feet, but that may not be enough to avoid a variance, county building official Bob Austin said.

The ordinance calls for condominiums not to exceed six stories or 105 feet, Mr. Austin said. While within the height restrictions, the condos at National Hills would be seven stories.

"I don't want to withdraw the height issue until I get a legal opinion on that," he said.

Based on preliminary plans, Mr. Austin said more parking has to be added to comply with code. Mr. Martin said this would not pose a problem or stall the project.

In the meantime, the center's businesses continue to operate. The partying will continue at Last Call until it gets a little closer to construction time, owner Jonathan Vick said.

At that point, he'll look at relocating, he said.

<<Augusta Chronicle, The (GA) (KRT) -- 02/02/06>>