With several new commercial ventures under way in the Martinez area, Columbia County Development Services Director Richard Harmon is optimistic it's a sign of things to come.
"A year ago, we counted 82 storefronts closed, and look what's going on now," he said. "It looked like doom and gloom, but all of a sudden, here we go.
"It's starting to come back, and that's a great thing."
The first business to make a splash in Martinez's retail sector was Stanton Optical, which opened on the busy corner of Washington and Old Evans roads in September.
Further down Washington Road near the county line, the Milton Ruben car dealership will soon begin renovating and expanding its facilities for a more modern design. Next door, Jim Hudson Lexus is renovating the former Augusta Suzuki dealership for used-vehicle sales.
Both SRP Federal Credit Union and Brenau University have projects under construction on Davis Road.
"Some call it Martinez revitalization," said Harmon, who plans to update the number of empty storefronts before the end of the year. "I don't call it that. I just call it interest in Martinez once again."
In coming months, a new health and fitness center also will locate within the West Town Shopping Center.
Live Fit Augusta will partner with two businesses to take over the 32,000-square-foot space that was previously occupied by Renaissance Fine Furniture.
The storefront will include a 16,000-square-foot fitness club in addition to a weight loss center operated by Dr. Michael Blaney. The Ultimate Ride and Fitness will also move into the building, offering several fitness classes.
"It's a one-stop shop," said owner Austin Tashakori. "It caters to everybody's needs."
Live Fit Augusta, which is expected to open in January, will be open seven days a week.
"We looked everywhere," Tashakori said. "It's a great location. It's on Washington Road. The parking is unlimited, and that was important to us."
Meybohm Commercial Senior Vice President Ann Davis, who has leased vacancies in the West Town Shopping Center for more than 25 years, said the center operates at about 100 percent occupancy.
Though she admits development moved toward Evans in recent years, Davis said people are beginning to again see the importance of retail in Martinez.
"For the last five years, Martinez has kind of been stepped over ... now it's coming back," she said. "It's an area that needs to have ample retail."
The county recently announced plans to conduct an urban redevelopment study for portions of central Martinez.
The study, which is a joint effort by the county's Development Authority and Development Services Division, will address areas needing redevelopment in sections of Bobby Jones Expressway, Washington Road and Martinez Boulevard.
An advisory committee of area business owners, residents and county staff will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Georgia Military College on Davis Road.
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