Could the grand opening of the new EDTS headquarters go down as theribbon-cutting event of 2017?
I think so.
While much larger developments are on the way – including the state’s cyber innovation center, a new hotel on Broad Street’s 1100 block and the highly anticipated (and secret) neo-urban community at the city-owned “depot” property – none will get the big-scissor treatment this calendar year.
Those projects’ budgets – which each hover at or above the $50 million mark – will dwarf the $6 million EDTS facility in the fledgling Augusta Cyberworkscomplex. But they’ll lack the joie de vivre of a 19th century cotton warehouse that’s been repurposed to deliver 21st century information technology services along the banks of the 172-year-old Augusta Canal.
The project on the Sixth Street depot property, for example, promises to be a “destination.” But, much like an infant child, it could take years to grow and develop personality.
The yet-to-be-announced hotel on the 1100 block of Broad (not to be confused with the Hyatt House under construction on the 1200 block) is said to be massive. But once the paint dries and the signs go up, it is still just a hotel, right?
The Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center at Augusta University’s Riverfront Campus will draw scores of new people downtown. Of course, time will tell whether the $60 million center becomes a of den of creativity and commerce or just another government building sporting brutalist architecture.
So, right now, I’d say EDTS and Cyberworks deserve the spotlight.
Keep in mind the 32,000-square-foot space for EDTS and its EDTS Cyberaffiliate is just a small part of the Cyberworks concept. If the developers, Cape Augusta Digital Properties, get their way, they’ll have more than 1 million square feet at the former Sibley and King mills converted into a tech-centric mixed-use development jacked in to a 20-megawatt data center that is hydroelectrically powered – and simultaneously cooled – by the canal’s flowing waters.
“Back in history, the Augusta Canal really sparked the industrial revolution in Augusta,” EDTS CEO Charles Johnson said at the event. “I really think cyber … is going to be our new Augusta Canal, and it’s fitting that this project is on the canal.”
Johnson is more than a tenant, he’s a Cape Augusta investor. But turning his hometown’s iconic industrial structures into a high-tech business park wasn’t his idea. The credit for that goes to James Ainslie, a South African entrepreneur was an unknown in the Augusta business community just a couple of years ago.
With a techie’s mind, a financier’s swagger and a mug that could get him a gig as Jason Statham’s stunt double, Ainslie is fast becoming one of the city’s most recognizable executives. (His wife Adel, by the way, gets my vote for “best accent” in Augusta.)
Ainslie’s business partner and fellow countryman Wayne Millar, who has been involved in local real estate development for more than a decade, are in the drivers’ seat. The two are relying on private equity funds, federal New Market Tax Credits and historic preservation grants to chip away at the $200 million adaptive reuse project, which calls for 250 market-rate apartments at King Mill.
During his remarks about the gargantuan undertaking, Ainslie quipped that he “perhaps had a tad too much optimism” when he first saw the idle textile mills three years ago.
“When I look at them now, I’m reminded of the adage: ‘How do you eat an elephant?’” he said jokingly. “Fortunately I’m from South Africa and that’s a skill they give us at an early age.”
Combined, Sibley and King are four times the size of Enterprise Mill. So if a metaphorical elephant is to be eaten, then this past week celebrated he first bite. Ainslie’s confident the region’s burgeoning cyber industry will help him clean the plate.
CHEW ON THIS: The EDTS grand opening party was quite the place to be on a late Tuesday afternoon. I don’t think every banker in town was there, but it sure seemed like it. Political figures, including State Rep. Mark Newton, and former political figures, including former State Sen. Charles Walker, also were abundant.
U.S. Rep. Rick Allen said Fort Gordon’s cyberific expansion has made his Beltway colleagues “very envious” of Georgia’s 12th congressional district. And Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis said the high-tech infusion gives the city an “opportunity to step into this age of innovation and technology.”
Later, near the shrimp cocktail buffet boat, Davis and I had a candid discussion about his support for building a new James Brown Arena at the former Regency Mall site, something that is contrary to consultant recommendations and a “silent majority” of business leaders who think the most logical place for a 10,000-plus seat arena is in downtown’s entertainment district.
If you read Scuttlebiz last week, you know my stance: A venue dependent upon regional – repeat, regional – consumers will not survive at the Regency site, no matter how much we might want it to.
I won’t divulge details of my off-the-record conversation with Davis. But I will say that neither the conversation nor his press conference the following day swayed my opinion.