Scuttlebiz: Two hotels planned for downtown Augusta business district

Scuttlebiz: Two hotels planned for downtown Augusta business district

By: Damon Cline

What can you say about a week where not one, but two, major local hotel projects are announced within days of each other?

I say: Whoo-hoo!

Yes, it’s news worth getting excited about. It’s not that a “new” hotel is a novel concept in this town – at least a dozen have been built in the city’s outlying areas in just the past few years. It’s that these business-class hotel projects are smack dab in the middle of the central business district, an area that has seen only three new hotel projects during the past quarter century.

So the addition of a 125- to 130-room hotel at Ninth and Reynolds streets – a stone’s throw from the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center complex – and a 100-plus room Hyatt House on the 1200 block of Broad Street are clear indicators of just how far the downtown renaissance has come.

The backers of these hotels — Augusta Riverfront LLC on the Ninth Street project and the Engler family for the Broad street project — wouldn’t have invested in them if the number of people who “live, work and play” in downtown Augusta was not on an uptick.

Driving this newest era in downtown revitalization is the expansion of Augusta University’s medical campus and cyber-related businesses such as Unisys. (And thanks, by the way, to the artists, hipsters and other not-so-young-anymore pioneers who helped make downtown “cool” enough for people to want to be downtown in the first place.).

As a bonus, neither hotel project will displace anybody or anything of cultural or historic value: The Ninth Street project will occupy the spot of the long vacant and decrepit 1930s-era Augusta Police Department building, a peculiar piece of New Deal-era architecture, but not something many people will miss in a couple of years. Or even a couple of weeks.

The Hyatt project will sit on a long-underutilized 1-acre tract that last saw action as a community bank branch, and not a very attractive one at that.

Neither hotel developer has disclosed what the projects will represent in terms of an investment (they’re both privately held) but obviously each project will fall in the seven-to-eight figure range when all is said and done. It’s safe to say that business people, especially the smart and local variety, don’t put up that kind of money unless they’re expecting a fruitful long-term return on their investment.

I don’t think too many people will argue with me saying these projects will be assets to the city core for decades to come. And I’m not just saying that because some of the people behind Augusta Riverfront LLC are the same people who sign my Augusta Chronicle paycheck. I’m saying that because the Augusta Marriott they developed 25 years ago looks as good today — if not better — than it did when it opened as a Radisson.

By the way, the Augusta Marriott was recently

named one of 55 “New or Renovated Site” awards in ConventionSouth magazine’s December issue.

Convention center business has been brisk enough at the facility that the ownership group expanded the hotel complex in 2001, and city voters in 2009 overwhelmingly approved construction of the center’s 40,000-square-foot exhibition hall using sales tax funds, which held its grand opening in 2013. The 44 events held at the venue’s exhibition center last year generated $12.3 million in direct visitor spending alone, tourism officials reported earlier this year. After three years of operation, the $50 million facility has practically paid for itself.

No wonder private-sector investors are willing to put their cash on the line.

Also in the good news department is the unveiling of Textron Specialized Vehicle’s Reaching Potential through Manufacturing initiative, the school-to-work program known as RPM, which lets students in danger of dropping out finish school while working part time at a special Textron plant on Mike Padgett Highway.

We’ve written about the program before — read your Chronicle folks! — so I don’t want to get too much into the details of how this wonderful concept is helping turn what could be future dropouts into productive citizens. But I do want to thank Textron for borrowing the idea from Carrollton, Ga.-based Southwire and deciding to invest countless man hours and more than $1 million into launching it here in Augusta.

Officials from Aiken and Burke counties have toured the facility and are considering replicating the program in their communities.

Thanks also are due to the contractors who helped turn the former county-owned warehouse into classroom and manufacturing space: Newsome Electrical Construction LLC, Counts Communications Inc. and Coleman Construction Inc. Officials at last week’s RPM unveiling said the companies did the work at-cost, but afterward a Textron official acknowledged some of the work was probably below cost.

Did you know that Dec. 7 this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack? Did you know that U-Haul was founded by a World War II Navy veteran?

Neither of those dawned on me until I read a run-of-the-mill news release on the latest area company to join the U-Haul rental network, which, by the way, is Antonio Hall’s Deluxe Car Care II at 2307 Lumpkin Road.

Now back to the history part: Turns out the ubiquitous do-it-yourself moving and self-storage business was founded in 1945 by Sam Shoen after his discharge from the Navy. He and his wife, Anna, were trying to get their possessions from Los Angeles to Portland, Ore., but couldn’t find anyone to rent them a utility trailer for their one-way journey.

The corporation is still about half owned by the Shoen family, which goes a long way toward explaining why U-Haul is a Gold Level sponsor of the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day events in Oahu this year.

If you’re a small business-owning human, you don’t need me telling you about how excessive government regulation is often standing in the way of expanding your enterprise and creating new jobs.

You need to hear it from someone like Alfredo Ortiz.

Ortiz, president and CEO of Job Creators Network — an Atlanta-based business advocacy organization created by entrepreneurs such as Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus — will be at U.S. Rep. Rick Allen’s “Bring Small Business Back” town hall meeting Tuesday at 8 a.m. at the Augusta Ronald McDonald House.

With Allen having been a small business owner for more than 40 years, you can be sure the 1 1/2-hour event at 1442 Harper Street (smack dab in the middle of Augusta University’s downtown campus) will spell out in stark terms about the “threats that small business owners face.”

Wanna go? RSVP to [email protected]

There’s no shortage of catering companies in this town.

If you’re a caterer and you think your outfit has the mettle to take on the food service business at the Salvation Army’s Ray & Joan Kroc Center, you might want to get a proposal together in the next few days. The Kroc Center, which averages eight events per week ranging from 10 to 300 people, is seeking proposals from event and catering companies to run its in-house banquet operations.

That’s everything from meetings and corporate luncheons to theater performances and weddings. Don’t even think about tossing your chef hat in the ring unless you have $1 million in business liability coverage. If you do, ask Jonelle Bailey for a request for proposal at [email protected]

And if this tip helps you get the contract, the only thing I ask for in return is a nice oatmeal raisin cookie. Always been a sucker for those.

If you’re not in the food business but would like to be, the Goodwill Industries-affiliated culinary school Helms College is holding an open house Nov. 5 at its Augusta campus at 3145 Washington Road from 10 a.m. to noon.

The free event will include tours of the culinary and health services campus, as well as demonstrations from instructors and current students. Admissions and financial aid staff will be available to talk to prospective students who might want to enroll for winter quarter classes, which start Jan. 17. Contact Admissions Manager Warren Rick at [email protected] or call (706) 651-9707.

And if it leads to a fruitful career in the food industry, you can thank me later. Did I mention I like oatmeal raisin cookies?

Here’s an interesting little trivia item: Fertilizer is about one-fifth of the cost of corn.

I discovered that little tidbit by doing some research on Canadian-based PotashCorp, whose massive chemical plant in east Augusta has produced ammonium nitrate, anhydrous ammonia and other agricultural fertilizers for about five decades. It also has been discussing a merger with fellow Canadian crop-nutrient producer Agrium Inc. in a deal valued at $27 billion.

Considering the plant is co-located with the soon-to-close Fibrant LLC (formerly DSM Chemicals) plant, and has recently reported a lower profit outlook for the year, there could be some changes in the works in 2017 for the plant, known to many in Augusta as PCS Nitrogen.

I have no idea what those changes — if any — would be.

But with Reuters reporting analysts saying the combined company would control two thirds of the potash industry and about one third of phosphate and nitrogen production, it would appear farmers who fear price hikes would be the most outspoken critics of the deal.

PotashCorp appears most interested in Agrium’s distribution network, which has more than 1,400 outlets (including about a dozen in Georgia) as well as seven plants and 17 distribution centers in the Western Hemisphere and Australia.

A shareholder vote on the deal is scheduled for Nov. 3.

In this week’s installment of the “who-says-they’re-looking-to-expand-in-Augusta” department, we have Papa Murphy’s, a Washington-based ultra fresh (i.e., freezer-free) pizza chain who says it is interested in building the first of what could be more than half a dozen restaurants in the metro area in the next 12-18 months.

There’s also interest from Cincinnati-based Buffalo Wings & Rings, an “elevated sports-restaurant” concept that, as you can imagine, focuses on traditional pub fare. Its chief development officer, Philip Schram, said in a statement that Augusta could support up to four of its restaurants.

“Augusta is the perfect market for us to expand into because they are a mid-sized city that has proven to be successful for similar restaurant concepts,” he said.

Of course, I’ll let you know if either company follows through on their plans. Until then, you’ll just have to enjoy the pizza and wing restaurants this town already has.

 

Read the full article here: http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/business/local-business/2016-10-29/scuttlebiz-two-hotels-planned-downtown-augusta-business