Columbia County leaders officially broke ground Tuesday in Evans at the site of what they say will be the heart of Columbia County.
Groundwork has already begun on The Plaza, a 22-acre, multi-use development complete with office, retail and restaurant space next door to a new 2,000-seat performing arts center and across the street from Lady Antebellum Park, triggering what officials are calling an exciting time in Columbia County.
For those who grew up in Columbia County, like Meybohm Realtors President Mike Polatty, the area is unrecognizable from his childhood days. Polatty told the crowd gathered for the groundbreaking that The Plaza presents a rare opportunity to add their own contribution to the county's history.
"What we had here were two churches, a general store, two service stations and a first through 12th grade school, and we had a community of people who lived and worked together and enjoyed the quality of life in Columbia County," Polatty said. "In the development business, rarely do you have a chance to go back in time and re-create something. And today, for us, that's what this means. For E.G. (Meybohm), myself, all the people on the development team, the county, we get a chance to do something truly unique to start over and define something for the future."
E.G. Meybohm and Meybohm Realtors are the private components of the public-private partnership that helped make the development possible, according to Columbia County Commission chairman Ron Cross.
"(E.G. Meybohm) brought the money that made this happen," Cross said.
Meybohm Realtors will occupy one third of the first 57,000-square-foot, three-story building to be constructed. The company plans to move agents and staff from their Belair Road office, where they've been since starting business in Columbia County in the 1980s.
A roof-top, open-air terrace, which can accommodate some 300 people, will overlook the entire downtown area and Lady Antebellum Amphitheater. Storefronts at street level will accommodate restaurants and other retailers that have yet to be named.
The building will be just one part of The Plaza's entire footprint, which will total more than 300,000 square feet.
"The master plan calls for a center park with the new Columbia County Performing Arts Center anchoring one end of the park, and ... six buildings that will surround that greenspace and lead down to the performing arts center," Polatty said.
Cross gave special thanks to the citizens of Columbia County, who he credited with turning the vision into reality with the passage of the special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) and the general obligation bond.
"The people we need to thank over and over again are you, the citizens of Columbia County," Cross told the crowd. "The bond issue is making a lot of this possible, the SPLOST you have approved in the past, it's a county collaboration. The support has been great. Your confidence in what we are doing is just outstanding."