Grovetown officials have made it their mission to draw businesses to the city.
And they believe that a recent uptick in commercial activity could be the first rays of sun shining through the cloudy economy.
"I'm hoping that this is a first wave, or first burst, of commercial activity coming to Grovetown that will be here for a long time," said City Councilman Sonny McDowell, who has been an active proponent of attracting business to the city through involvement in the city's comprehensive plan and other initiatives.
A few months ago, McDowell said he saw 17 empty commercial properties in the city and nearly a dozen more just outside the city limits.
Dwight Joiner, who owns more than 14 acres on Wrightsboro Road in the former Mobile Home Estates location, said he bought the property in 2006.
"I decided to go ahead and development it into a nice shopping center in the center of Grovetown," Joiner said. ''By the time I got finished with the infrastructure, the recession hit, and that's where we are. There's a lot of activity starting to kick back in on it."
O'Reilly's auto parts store opened in early 2008 and Joiner said he's recently sold a front parcel to Barney's Pharmacy. He's also been fielding calls about the property, including some from major retailers interested in the larger back parcel.
"I'm excited about it," Joiner said. "I think we're on the way to recovery."
The city's former post office was recently purchased and will be converted to an urgent care medical clinic. An outdoor power equipment store is planned for East Robinson Avenue property across from Katherine Street. A second CVS, the city's third pharmacy, is under construction across from Food Lion on Horizon South Parkway.
Construction has finally begun at the Augusta Technical College campus, just outside the city limits.
Mayor George James said he's excited about the growth, which would add to the city's tax base and provide more conveniences for residents. He's also heard rumors about a family-style restaurant opening on Robinson Avenue.
"These are grass roots," McDowell said. "Most of them, other than the CVS, are small, independent businesses trying to get a start. That's really what our economy needs to be based on is small, grass roots business."
McDowell said he sees smaller businesses as more stable than large chains, and that Walmart opening near Interstate 20 demonstrates to other businesses that Grovetown has economic power.
Developer John Herman recently purchased the former Grovetown Bargain Center on East Robinson Avenue near Gordon Highway. He's in the process of giving the shopping center a face lift with new facades, lighting, signs and parking lot.
He's been looking to develop property in Grovetown in part because of the growth at Fort Gordon.
"So many people are moving to Grovetown that commercial is the next logical process, and I want to be a part of that," Herman said.
Though about half of the existing tenants are staying, Herman said he's gotten lots of calls from small business owners interested in the available retail spots.
"It has really been encouraging," Herman said. "The thing I am finding is that there is actually more need than I ever expected."
James said Fort Gordon officials have said the construction at Gate Five, which is nearly complete, will help alleviate traffic problems along East Robinson Avenue, one of the city's two main commercial corridors.
With the city's proximity to Fort Gordon and large number of military residents, James said growth at the military installation can only mean good things for the city.
"Fort Gordon is expanding," James said. "We're right at their back door. ... We're going to grow right along with them, there's no doubt. We welcome it."
Providing infrastructure for rapid growth can sometimes be difficult, James said. But a project to expand the city's water distribution system including new water lines and a new water tank, is currently under way.
McDowell said he'd love to see the development continue with the addition of more convenience businesses for residents such as book stores, restaurants, and clothing and shoe boutiques.
"I am hoping that this is just the first burst," McDowell said. "For the next few years, it is going to be kind of a driving development activity in Grovetown. I'm hoping that's what we're seeing."
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