Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lori Davis: Options for Sibley Mill Redevelopment Discussed

By Lori Davis, chief Harrisburg correspondent for

"Notice is hereby given that the Augusta Canal Authority intends to apply to the EPA on November 28, 2011 for a Brownfield grant to be used for the environmental clean up of the former Sibley Mill property located at 1717 Goodrich Street, Augusta-Richmond County, Georgia.  A public information meeting and visioning for the future redevelopment of the site will be held November 21, 2011 at 6:00 p.m, Enterprise Mill Cotton Room, 1450 Greene Street, Augusta GA 30901."
For those of you who are not familiar, this is a public meeting notice which invites all interested parties to participate. The public has a right to know what is going to take place in a given area when federal grants are being applied for as with the Sibley Mill. The public also by law, has a right to know,  when substantial zoning changes to an area have been applied for. The Harrisburg Mill Village in which the Sibley Mill resides was recently declared an Opportunity Zone by the GA Department of Community Affairs without a public hearing.  This was a zoning change of broad proportions for the Harrisburg neighborhood. Are these two projects connected?  
This past Monday night several interested parties gathered for this public meeting to discuss the grant that was being applied for through the Environmental Protection Agency to aid in the clean up of the Sibley Mill.  The grant being applied for was in the ballpark of $200,000. Some clean up had already been done on the site and there will be even more to be done even after this grant is hopefully awarded to the Augusta Canal Authority which owns the mill at the present time.  
Sibley Cotton Mill during it's heyday
No one could disagree with environmental clean up of an area, so this part of the meeting flowed smoothly.  The second part of the meeting was to discuss future uses for the Sibley Mill. This is where the meeting became very interesting. I only recognized a few of the attendees as anyone who would have a true interest in the Harrisburg neighborhood along with the use of the Mill.  As a matter of fact, I don't remember hearing the neighborhood itself discussed too much. 

Ideas ranged from housing Veterans to providing a place for the docking of electric vehicles to a mixed use facility with shops, restaurants and condos. At this point, a very astute Harrisburg rental property owner joined the conversation and asked for the input of Clay Boardman who was also attending the meeting.  What a great move! 

This is where we would get to the meat of the matter and also what  was quite possibly going to happen with this mill.  The reason that this becomes important is that an article available on the Flywheel Website indicated that Sibly Mill, LLC bought the property from the Felker family, the primary owner's of the mill. It was later sold  to the Augusta Canal Authority for around $800,000. Good move to get the federal dollars to aid in the clean up of the property. 

The conversation then turned toward a use for the property that no one in the room had considered. With the canal and the power that is generated with the turbines belonging to the mill, something that would use a lot of electricity would be a good choice.  This is when the idea of a data center was brought forward by Mr. Boardman.  This data center would house computer servers which would use the available power. Now this is getting even more interesting when you look at the generated power and what it sells for.  The ACA sells the extra power generated there to Georgia Power for three cents per KWH. which brings in around $450,000 a year to the Canal Authority. Pretty good return since they paid $800,000 for the property. Looking a little further, once the clean up is complete, the Mill will be made available for sale to a developer. 

Best case scenario for a developer turned owner is to put a tenant in the building who has a use for this amount of power but can get the power cheaper than Georgia Power would sell it. Georgia Power sells power at 9 cents or so per KWH.  Hypothetically, the owner could sell the power to the tenant for six cents per KWH and make a grand profit especially from a tenant who is housing computer servers with a very small work force to keep everything operating optimally. 

Good deal for the developer turned owner, not so great for the revitalization of Harrisburg. To quote the developer associated with Sibley LLC who purchased the property from the Felkers,"They had other options that may have meant that they could have realized more economic gain, but chose me and my team to undertake this project. I give them credit for their concern for our community." Wonder if the Felkers were thinking about the future profitability of only one person when they decided to sell their beloeved mill property.  All hypothetical of course......**
Lori Davis

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