The Village at Riverwatch: Augusta's First Regional Shopping Center

The Village at Riverwatch, a new shopping center in Augusta, Georgia, is the area's first truly regional shopping destination. It is located along Interstate 20 and Riverwatch Parkway, near the banks of the Savannah River and the historic Augusta Canal. Augusta is known throughout the world as the home of the Master's golf tournament, held every April, but it is also a city with an extraordinary history, with beautiful and architecturally significant homes and commercial buildings. Columbia County, the primary county in the metro area, is one of the fastest growing counties in the state of Georgia. The primary trade area for the Village at Riverwatch extends over several counties in Georgia and South Carolina and includes nearly half-a-million people.

The 800,000-square-foot development is designed in an open-air, "streetscape'' style instead of an enclosed mall. This retail style, known to real estate developers as a "lifestyle center,'' is meant to emulate a village in which shoppers walk from store to store. The center includes a Bass Pro Shop, Belk department store and Costco warehouse retailer, as well as an 18-screen cinema. The new Belk department store will replace an older one at another shopping center, nearly tripling the older store's size. The cinema, operated by Starplex, is that company's first location in Georgia.

The Bass Pro Shop, according to the company's website, is a visually appealing mixture of sporting goods store, aquarium, outdoor education center, conservatory and entertainment. The stores are frequently tourist attractions in their own right. Martin McDonald, the director of corporate public relations for the company says, "These stores are regional draws. People drive an average of 50 miles to one of these stores.'' Each store is designed to reflect the sporting and outdoor heritage of the local area. The new Augusta location will be no different, emphasizing hunting, fishing and golf.

A major concern surrounding the construction of the Village at Riverwatch has been its effect on the historic Augusta Canal. The canal, constructed in 1845, was one of the only successful industrial canals in the South. It spurred the development of factories and mills in Augusta, leading to the town's success as a manufacturing center. Now a National Heritage Area, the canal runs alongside the site of the Village at Riverwatch. The owners of the project have donated over 18 acres of land, as well as $250,000, to the Augusta Canal Authority, to serve as a buffer between the canal and the retail center, and local environmentalists and historians are hopeful that the development will help, rather than hinder, respectful recreational use of the area. The developer and local authorities alike hope to connect the site with other areas through bicycle trails and a proposed canoe and kayak dock.

Stores at the Village at Riverwatch are currently scheduled to begin opening in the Fall of 2009. The project will eventually include casual restaurants, small specialty shops and another large anchor. The Bass Pro Shop is expected to be the first major retailer to open on the site.

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