GA: Agreement Nears on Moving Buses

Aug. 27--After years of talks and legal wrangling, events are finally in motion to move Augusta's city buses to a new home, opening up the 15th Street corridor to new retail development that could become a "gateway" to Georgia Regents University, officials said.

The Richmond County Board of Education is expected to take up an agreement next month that would transfer eight acres of jointly owned property on Lumpkin Road exclusively to the city for its new bus depot, school board attorney Pete Fletcher said.

"I can't speak for the board, but I don't anticipate any problems," he said. "I anticipate it being routine."

The school board and city had purchased about 90 acres in south Augusta to house their bus depots and other functions, but the city's reliance on Federal Transit Administration grants for the new project is requiring the city to have exclusive ownership of the new depot site.

The school board has worked with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division on site cleanup and testing, and the city is close to approval from EPD on the plan for its site, said attorney Jim Plunkett, the city's outside counsel on most development deals. Construction of the new depot is expected to take 12-16 months, Plunkett said.

Medical College of Georgia Foundation, which owns most of the property surrounding the city's bus depot on 15th Street, has long planned to create a new development there, including a grocery store, President and CEO James Osborne said.

"Wal-Mart is in the picture," he said. "Kroger is in the picture. It could be another grocery store."

Both Wal-Mart and Kroger have talked about a "boutique concept" store of about 40,000 square feet that would include groceries and other items and would be an important asset for the Health Sciences campus, Osborne said.

The foundation has had a concept of creating a gateway to that campus that would take advantage of plans to renovate 15th Street, beginning at the Archibald W. Butt Memorial Bridge and continuing through the campus. That would include medians and "significant upgrades" to the street's appearance, he said.

The foundation's concept also would include upscale restaurants and green space, Osborne said, but first, the bus depot has to go.

"The centerpiece is where the buses are now," Osborne said. "I think everything is ready for both boards to approve. We've been at this for a few years. We've been negotiating for this ownership for several years, and I think we're on the brink of getting it completed."

Copyright 2014 - The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.