Author Archives: Kristy Johnson

Connell’s Appliance, Heating & Air

Go Local

Company Name: Connell’s Appliance, Heating & Air
Year Established: 1989
Owners: Karyn Connell Edmondson,  President
Address: 300 Rose Street, Martinez
Phone: 706.860.7400
Specialties: Air Conditioning, Furnaces & Heat Pumps, Ductless Systems, Repair, Service, Sales, Installation, Maintenance. Factory Authorized Carrier Dealer. Air Quality/Purification.
We offer an App for download through Apple and Android for service calls.



Chicken Fingers

Go Local

Company Name: Chicken Fingers
Year Established: 2017
Owners: Norman Skelton
                 Josh Pinson
Address: 4108 Evans To Locks Rd. Evans, GA
Phone: 706.305.9099
Specialties: Catering, Party Trays, Birthdays, Parties,
                      Celebrations, Homemade Sauces, Kids Combos


Casual Furniture of Augusta

Go Local

Company Name:  Casual Furniture of Augusta
Year Established:  2011
Owner:  Donna Gibbs
Address: 3725 Washington Road | Augusta
Phone:  (706) 504-4547
Specialties:  The largest selection of quality furniture in Augusta for sunrooms, porches, decks, patios, pools and outdoor living spaces.

Voted “Best Outdoor Furniture” 6 Years in a Row


Works of Art

A & E

ChalkArtist2Artisans and entertainers take center stage at Art in the Park Fall Fest 
Creativity will be on display Saturday, October 20, at the 15th annual Arts in the Park Fall Fest, where artisans and entertainers in the area will showcase their talents. 

“From visual to performing arts, anything is fair game for Columbia County’s own fine arts festival,” says Regina Brejda, Columbia County Arts Inc. president.

The festival will feature a variety of performers including Columbia County Ballet and Musical Theatre Workshops. Fall Fest had 64 vendors from a variety of mediums last year, and event organizers are hoping to have even more artists at this year’s festival. 

“Along with music and dance, you’ll see everything from pottery, paintings and wood carvings to handmade brooms, jewelry and soaps,” Brejda says. “It’s a day of both two-dimensional and three-dimensional art.” 

The popular sidewalk chalk contest will be part of the festivities again this year as well. Local elementary, middle and high schools can enter a team for a chance to win money to support their schools’ visual arts department. The individual portion of the competition begins at 10 a.m. Participants can register at the main Columbia County arts booth. Registration is $20. Categories will be divided into age brackets, and prizes will be awarded for first and second places. An overall best of show winner will be named as well. 

If You Go:
What: Art in the Park Fall Fest 

When: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, October 20

Where: Columbia County Library Amphitheater

How Much: Free admission; food and beverage vendors on site

More Info:;; Regina Brejda, (706) 267-6724

Egypt Station — Paul McCartney

Listen To This

Egypt-StationSeventeen solo albums after the collapse of the Beatles, Paul McCartney, aka Macca, is as inventive and relevant as ever with his new release, Egypt Station. The insurgence of rock ‘n’ roll is alive and kicking with the royal patriarch at the helm. 

Macca’s melodic style and open spirit envelopes his timeless mark as the approachable and playful Beatle for life. His unique English on the ball (pun intended) is prevalent on Egypt Station as he takes us on a magical and mysterious journey of life well lived with more to come.

Stylistically, Macca’s harmonies, rhythmic tones and purely bottled vocals are at the forefront of some of his most impactful songwriting to date. A prime example is the sobering ditty “Happy with You,” which hollers his view on a life well lived without foreign substances. Instead it’s simple love and the attraction of relational camaraderie that is the only drug at the end of the day.

In our polarizing society, music binds the differences and creates a playing field for everyone to enjoy without shocking-position or overstating an agenda. We can all rally the anthem of love and happiness and what makes life and the company of others so rewarding. Paul McCartney minds the gap, falls into the gap, and bridges the gap that music needs right now with a familiar hope for the horizons that give us the beautiful dawn and the majestic dusk. Egypt Station is the perfect soundtrack for experiencing life in real time and having a real time experiencing life. Deep thoughts for your day. 

- Chris Rucker

Cut from the Same Cloth

A & E
Enopion Theatre Company photos courtesy of Carol Rezzelle Storyland Theatre photos courtesy of Branch Carter

Enopion Theatre Company photos courtesy of Carol Rezzelle
Storyland Theatre photos courtesy of Branch Carter

The skills of local costume designers are bursting at the seams. 

Most of us, who are so inclined, only have to come up with a costume once a year for Halloween. The costume designers at local theater companies, however, create frightfully fabulous costumes all year long. After all, they have learned the tricks of the trade to treat audiences to their otherworldly talents and creativity.

Passionate & Professional
For almost two decades, Margie Garner has made the costumes for Enopion Theatre Company, which puts on three biblical shows a year.

“Margie and I have been working together for about 30 years through church drama and then the last 20 years with Enopion,” says Carol Rezzelle, the Enopion founder and director. “She is passionate about her work and makes our productions beautiful to watch. She sews the costumes, fits them to the actor and then attends every performance making sure the costumes are pressed and on the actor correctly. I couldn’t imagine Enopion without her.”

Margie used to do all of the work herself until Mary Rhoden started helping her with the last production. It takes Margie about six to eight hours to make a costume from scratch. Since she works fulltime at a medical billing company, she sews at night and on weekends.

Fortunately, however, she can repurpose or alter some costumes. “I put them all together one way or another,” says Margie, a self-taught seamstress who started sewing when she was 9 years old. 

Storyland-The-Nightingale(Photo-credit-Branch-Carter)In Enopion’s early years, Margie made 30 or 40 costumes per show. Now that the theater company has amassed an inventory of costumes, she makes 10 to 15 for each production.

“I usually spend as much time on the costumes as the actors do memorizing their lines,” Margie says.

Since 2011, Ooollee Brickman, who owns Vintage Ooollee in Augusta, has designed and sewn the costumes for Storyland Theatre. This theater company performs three fairy tale-based shows a year, and its mission is to introduce children to theater and encourage them to support the arts into adulthood.

“Ooollee is a dynamic, professional and competent woman,” says Barbara Feldman, executive director of Storyland Theatre. “Since Storyland Theatre performs for children, I have always been careful to use different costumes for each show, not repeating a costume for several years because children pay attention and remember everything they see. Ooollee is not only a source to us. Without her, many theaters in our community would be unable to costume their actors.”

Storyland-Sleeping-Beauty(Ooollee-red-hair)Photo-credit-Branch-CarterOoollee makes three or four costumes for Storyland a year, and she also does costumes for local high school theater departments and other small theater groups.

“I love working with Storyland,” says Ooollee. “Barbara introduces children to theater for the first time. I have met people who are actors today because they got their first exposure to theater at Storyland. I think that’s a beautiful thing that happens in this community.”

Ideas & Inspiration
To get ideas for costumes, Margie relies on the Internet and YouTube to research costumes and how to make certain things. In addition, she says, “Carol pulls pictures that she wants things to look like, and we go from there.”

Sometimes Enopion rents costumes, particularly ones that won’t be used again and again, and Margie alters them if necessary. However, she welcomes every challenge for each production. For Enopion’s upcoming show, “The Nativity,” for instance, she needs to make brand new animal costumes for a lion, a duck and a lamb.

For inspiration, Ooollee says, “We meet with the director to get an idea of their vision and look to see what patterns we can find. You’re only limited by your imagination. I have a bunch of creative people that work with me.”

Storyland-Rumpelstiltskin(Photo-credit-Branch-Carter)They include her main seamstress, Kathy Gillespie, who had a costume business in California for 35 years.

“I like the creative process,” says Kathy, who learned to sew when she was 8 years old by making doll clothes. “You can create your own look. I have a good knack for seeing the whole scene.”

She reads the scripts, makes a spreadsheet about every scene and creates a costume plot for each cast member and the characters they play. Then she takes measurements, does fittings and makes alterations.

“It’s a huge process,” Kathy says of making a costume. “I build it or find it or alter it. I’m a perfectionist. It takes a long time to get everybody’s hems right and work around their schedules.”

Kathy, who made her own clothes and Halloween costumes, of course, when she was growing up, delved deeper into costuming when her daughter became interested in theater in high school. Her daughter got involved with Augusta Players when she moved to the area 20 years ago, and Kathy has made some costumes for Augusta Players and Junior Players as well. 

“I enjoy the creative process, which I work on alone,” she says. “But I also enjoy the people I work with – the adults, the kids, the actors. I enjoy being part of that creative team.”

Personality & Performance
Margie tries to factor the personalities of the actors into their costumes. “Some will tolerate being flamboyant, but others won’t,” she says. “I have to take the characters into consideration, also. I try to put something in the costumes that the actors really, really like so they know that it’s their costume and not one I just pulled off the rack.”

That something extra might be as simple as a belt or using the actor’s favorite color. 

Fabrics also make a costume come alive. “Adding trim,” says Ooollee, “just changes everything.” 

For the biblical costumes, Margie often has to make them “plain and rough looking.” 

“I paint the costumes, dirty them up or dye them to make them look old,” she says. 

Ooollee takes the characters’ personalities into consideration when designing costumes. “Some might have a big personality or a demure personality, so you need to change the style,” she says.

However, Ooollee, who started sewing in high school, says the biggest challenge in costume making is having enough time to do it correctly. “It takes time to sew if you want to do it right,” she says. 

And the costumes need to stay just right, so the designers must always be ready for the inevitable wardrobe malfunction.

Margie keeps a bag of pins, tapes and clips handy. In addition, she says, “I usually have a sewing machine in my car, or I at least have a sewing kit with me.”

One of the biggest challenges is getting all of the actors ready on time so they can relax and get in character. However, says Margie, “I never calm down until the show is over.”

Ooollee says the dreaded wardrobe malfunction typically occurs during a quick change. However, she goes to all of Storyland’s dress rehearsals and productions to be on hand to solve any problem. “I take a sewing kit with me,” she says. “That’s what a dress rehearsal is for – to make sure everything works right.” 

Margie not only makes costumes for the performers. She also sewed all of the draperies for Enopion’s new performing space, Ivory Box Theatre, that recently opened in Martinez. 

“I like it all. I love doing the costumes. I love working backstage. I love all the excitement and camaraderie,” Margie says. “It’s a good, family atmosphere.”

And the clothes definitely can make the character. 

“I love to dress up in costume. You can put on a different face and a different outfit, and you can let your hair down,” Ooollee says. “You can put on a costume and become a completely different person.”

By Sarah James


Have a Big Time

A & E

ModelThe Oliver Hardy Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
Harlem once again will honor its native son with its annual Oliver Hardy Festival. For three decades Hardy, along with Englishman Stan Laurel, was one-half of Hollywood’s famous comedy duo of Laurel & Hardy. 

“Oliver Hardy was born here, and the festival keeps his memory alive,” says Kennedy Sammons, Harlem’s Downtown Development director.

The event will include almost 150 arts and crafts vendors, about 30 food vendors, look alikes dressed as Stan and Ollie, old cars, a parade and all-day viewings of Laurel & Hardy movies. A stage at the Harlem Library will offer entertainment throughout the day by performers such as The Remedy, Tanner Duckworth and Augusta Youth School of Dance.

Food will range from pulled pork, hamburgers, hot dogs and cheese steaks to funnel cakes, fried Oreos, gelato and shaved ice.

“We want people to enjoy Harlem and come see what we have to offer. Most of our downtown merchants will be open during the festival,” Sammons says. “Harlem has the only historical downtown in Columbia County.”

The festival typically attracts more than 35,000 visitors from around the world.

If You Go:
What: Oliver Hardy Festival

When: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, October 6; parade begins at 10 a.m.

Where: Downtown Harlem

How Much: Free admission 

More Info:

Aw, Shucks!

A & E

bash-picCentral Savannah River Land Trust celebrates success with its annual oyster roast and party at the river

Perfect fall evenings beg for perfect fall celebrations, and it will be hard to beat Central Savannah River Land Trust’s 15th annual Bash on the Banks. 

The popular event once again will feature an oyster roast with oysters from the Gulf of Mexico, classic Southern food catered by Sweet Magnolia’s Deli and Grille in Pelion, South Carolina, and local spirits from River Watch Brewery in Augusta and Carolina Moon Distillery in Edgefield.

Entertainment will include corn hole, a live auction, a raffle, live music by blues band Packrat’s Smokehouse, and new this year, a cigar bar.

Raffle items include a 12-foot angler’s kayak, passes to the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Palmetto Shooting Complex, a wood bowl turned by Dave Welter and gift packages from local boutiques. 

The auction will include experience-based items such as fly fishing lessons, a fly fishing trip and rounds of golf at area courses. In one of the highlights of the evening, local artist Richard Worth will paint a nature scene during the party, and the acrylic will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

“We are celebrating everyone’s combined efforts of conservation success and the generous community support,” says Bethany Surles, the Land Trust membership and events coordinator. “This is our way to celebrate with the community. We couldn’t succeed without them.” 

The Land Trust is funded entirely by grants and donations. By preserving local forests, farms, rivers and open spaces, the nonprofit organization protects the quality of life in the area and leaves natural resources intact for future generations. Since 2001, the Land Trust has protected more than 7,300 acres of land throughout Georgia and South Carolina.

Preserved areas include 315 acres in Columbia County, 1,761 in Richmond County and 773 acres in Aiken and Edgefield counties such as Greystone Preserve in North Augusta. Through partnerships with local developers, the Land Trust has saved more than 2.5 miles of the banks of the Savannah River along the edge of Columbia County. The conservation organization has preserved land in several Columbia County neighborhoods as well. 

“It’s our desire to connect conservation properties throughout Columbia County. With both green spaces and the greenway project, we are focused on this high density and developed area,” says Surles. “For any remaining landowners who are interested in still preserving their land, we would love for them to reach out to us.”

In the meantime, however, past accomplishments must be celebrated. “We are really elevating the experience this year,” Surles says. “It’s going to be a great event. We’re really excited.” 

If You Go:
What: 15th annual Bash on the Banks 

When: 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Thursday, October 25 

Where: River Island Clubhouse 

How Much: $75 admission; $20 drinks (three alcoholic beverages, unlimited soft drinks), $5 single drink; $20 raffle tickets

More Info:

Football, Film & Standing in for Burt Reynolds

Photos courtesy of Stan Byrdy, Donnie Hixon and Georgia State Prison at Reidsville

Photos courtesy of Stan Byrdy, Donnie Hixon and Georgia State Prison at Reidsville

A Martinez resident recalls his gridiron glory days, Hollywood-style.
To hear Columbia County resident Donnie Hixon tell it, the best days of his life were those spent at the Georgia State Prison at Reidsville in the fall of 1973. It is also where Hixon received numerous punishing blows to his body over the course of five weeks.

After one such barrage early after his arrival in which he was nearly knocked out, Hixon recalls thinking to himself, “What the hell am I doing here?”

3.-Hixon-&-ReynoldsHowever, his time spent inside the walls of the maximum security prison, a massive, white structure situated about 110 miles south of Augusta, was of his own volition. He was part of the cast of The Longest Yard, the box office sensation that starred budding movie icon Burt Reynolds.

And not just in any role, mind you. Hixon, a former semi-pro quarterback was selected as Reynolds’ stand-in double for the film, a role that the Augusta native says he was honored to play.

2.-Eddie-Albert-(Warden-Hazen)-with-Hixon“Let’s make this clear,” says Hixon, “he didn’t need me or anyone else to stand in for him. Had they let him, he would have been two times better — he was that good of an athlete. Being his stand-in was an honor, and like my time spent in the Marines, it would turn out to be another life-changing experience for me.” 

Like a Dream
Reynolds, who died in September at age 82, played college football at Florida State, and the chance to return to the gridiron as a quarterback in a major motion picture was a dream come true. Hixon had been a standout football player in the Marines and afterwards as quarterback with the Augusta Eagles semi-pro team. As luck would have it, a select number of Hixon’s teammates also were chosen to take part in the film.

ID-frontAfter a prison riot in Oklahoma at the movie’s original prospective location, the Reidsville facility was hurriedly selected as a replacement.

As Reynolds’ stand-in, Hixon took the physically punishing shots from a cast of former NFL greats, including fearsome Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke.

on-the-setReynolds and Hixon both donned number 22 jerseys in the film, but after calling the signals at quarterback, the actor went back to the sidelines and watched from an easy chair as the other number 22 took the ensuing blows. Both were in great shape, and looked enough alike that with helmets on and slick film editing, it was nearly impossible to differentiate between the two onscreen. Defensive players didn’t care which number 22 they tackled — they just wanted a shot at whichever pretty boy was toting the football. 

4.-Reynolds-HixonHixon admits to not getting much sleep the night before heading off to the prison, and he was nervous on his drive to Reidsville. “Working with Burt Reynolds?… you’ve got be kidding.” It felt like a dream.

“Prior to reporting to Reidsville Prison for filming,” Hixon recalls, “I was told the movie with Burt was going to be a football game played inside the prison between inmates and guards. When I first heard this I thought to myself, ‘That’s going to be a hell of a game.’ At first, this sounded very dangerous to me — what if a riot breaks out like the one at the prison in Oklahoma? Maybe that’s why I got selected, because others turned my role down. Up until the time I reported to Reidsville, I thought the movie people were taking a hell of a chance — filming a football game inside the walls of a maximum security prison… would have to be very risky.… There were a lot more prisoners there than us.” 

6.-Actor-Richard-Kiel-(right)Protection for the star-studded cast of actors and former professional football stars that converged on Reidsville was job one for the Georgia Department of Corrections. Still, Hixon’s mind was set. 

“After weighing all this, I admit I did have some concerns, but never any second thoughts about taking part in the film. After all, ‘I can’t turn down a once in a lifetime opportunity like this, one that doesn’t come along every day. I’ve got to go for it, it can’t be that unsafe,’ I kept telling myself. As it turned out, the only person I would need to fear was Green Bay Packer legend, Ray Nitschke, and not the prisoners.”

After all, it was Nitschke who delivered the most punishing blows. 

A Nostalgic Return
In February Hixon returned to Reidsville for the first time in nearly half a century (this writer accompanied him to document the visit), and fresh memories flooded his mind. He recounted his first day at the prison in 1973.

“Outside I was greeted by a guard and escorted through large steel doors at the main entrance. I had an insecure feeling once those doors closed shut behind me. That’s when realization set in. Here I was, inside a maximum security prison around some of the world’s most dangerous criminals. I felt trapped. I was taken to a processing office where I produced identification, was given instructions and had my picture taken for the Paramount Pictures ID card. The identification card was secured on a string and had to be worn around my neck upon entry or exit of the prison. I still have that ID card today.”

It was Hixon’s Paramount Pictures ID card and a scrapbook full of rare photos from the production that played a large part in getting us inside the prison. One look at Hixon’s old ID and warden Marty Allen knew this was something he hadn’t encountered before.

Sure, he had seen the pictures on the fifth floor prison walls that documented the event, but never had anyone shown up looking to get inside the prison to re-live those days. The warden quipped that Hixon’s 45-year-old ID card came without an expiration date, then made a few phone calls and warmly welcomed Reynolds’ stunt-double back to Reidsville for a tour.

High atop the prison, one floor up from death-row, rests a small room that houses the now obsolete electric chair, one that was still in use when The Longest Yard was filmed. A barred window not far from the chair overlooks the one-time field put in place for the production. The movie’s original script and countless pictures from those days line the walls in that same room.

Warden-Marty-Allen-and-Hixon-in-2018Recipe for Success 
The actual recipe that went into making a motion picture at Reidsville went something like this: Carefully select a dozen or so choice Hollywood stars, add a dozen seasoned former NFL standouts and make room for Hixon, 14 of his Eagles teammates and three of their coaches. Stir slowly, sprinkle with inmates (who auditioned for and won roles in the film), and top things off with a Hollywood production crew. Place in the oven and bake for five weeks at south Georgia outdoor temperatures. Contain the mixture within a perimeter of razor sharp wire – and be sure not to let it boil over. Remove and serve hot to movie-goers worldwide, popcorn optional.

The finished product — an irreverent and not politically correct low-budget production — was a smash hit with moviegoers, grossing $43 million. With similar box office numbers in back-to-back movies, (Deliverance, 1972 and The Longest Yard, 1974), Reynolds cemented his name as a bona fide leading man.

Hixon’s life also changed dramatically as his persona was suddenly and forevermore connected to Reynolds. “I never met anybody like that before, with that notoriety… It kind of changed my life. I took on a new identity,” he says. “Today I went to Walmart, a guy came up to me and introduced me to his wife and said, ‘He’s the one who did The Longest Yard.’ I get it all the time. It never stops.” 

Hixon kept in touch with Reynolds through the years and even paid his acting acquaintance a visit in Florida several years ago. While he was saddened to hear of Reynolds’ passing, Hixon was not completely caught off guard. “I’m sorry that he died, but he had been in bad shape for years and years and may be better off,” he says.

But Hixon still has his memories of Reynolds and the fall of 1973 at the Reidsville prison— the time of his life.


By Stan Byrdy


In collaboration with author Stan Byrdy, Hixon’s stories from The Longest Yard are recounted in the upcoming book, Behind the Scenes with Burt Reynolds at Reidsville State Prison. The book, due for release in December, includes never-before-seen photographs of Reynolds, Hixon, Hollywood legends and former NFL standouts in the making of the film.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Literary Loop

hardcastle“Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.”

It is meant to be a celebration, but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed. 

But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden — one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party — can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again, ending every time with the fateful pistol shot. The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath.

“Pop your favorite Agatha Christie whodunnit into a blender with a scoop of Downton Abbey, a dash of Quantum Leap and a liberal sprinkling of Groundhog’s Day and you’ll get this unique murder mystery,” says Harper’s Bazaar. 

“Turton’s debut is a brainy, action-filled sendup of the classic mystery,” says Kirkus.

Halloween Chocolate Bark

Appetizers and Snacks


  • 3/4 cup mini pretzels
  • 3 cups chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup M&Ms 
  • 1 tablespoon candy eyeballs
  • 1-2 teaspoons sea salt

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread pretzels evenly on parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch border between pretzels and edge of pan. Place chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30 second intervals until smooth. Spoon or pour chocolate over pretzels. Press in candy eyes and M&Ms. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt. Let chocolate set 2-3 hours and cut into serving size pieces.

Center of Attention

Photos courtesy of Meybohm Real Estate

Photos courtesy of Meybohm Real Estate

Planning and discussions for a downtown area in Columbia County have been years in the making, and the project finally is coming to fruition with the opening of The Plaza at Evans Towne Center.

Columbia County had a prime piece of property in Evans that was ripe for development into a town center. Meybohm Real Estate was looking to establish office space in the rapidly growing county. Their goals had all the makings of a great alliance between two heavyweight players. 

After all, E.G. Meybohm, chairman of Meybohm Real Estate, says, “Columbia County has been a big part of our business for a number of years. It has a lot of growth going on. We thought we had a chance to do something special for Columbia County as well as for ourselves.” 

Meybohm-119That something special turned into a public-private partnership between Columbia County and Meybohm to build a $65 million, mixed-used, downtown development in the heart of Evans at the intersection of Ronald Reagan Drive and Evans Town Center Boulevard. 

After almost three years of working together, the first building in Phase I, the Meybohm Building, is scheduled to open by the end of September.

Meybohm-102Thoroughly Modern 
The four-story, 58,000-square-foot Meybohm building includes a basement; retail space on the second floor, which is on street level; the Meybohm headquarters on the third story and a special events venue on the rooftop. The building includes four restaurant spaces, and Your Pie, a pizza and craft beer establishment, will be located on the second floor.

Other potential tenants include cyber and computer software companies, medical and legal offices, and insurance companies. 

Meybohm-123“This is a good spot for anyone who is looking to relocate, add another location or come to this market,” says Lionel Prather, senior vice president of commercial development. “We’re down the street from the courthouse, so having a law office close by would make a lot of sense.” 

The new Meybohm office allows the company to consolidate services such as its new homes and relocation divisions into one space. The office features polished concrete flooring; throw rugs; open, collaborative work space; a Success Center for training and lots of windows.

Meybohm-120“There is such a beautiful view on the back side of the building, and we incorporated a lot of glass on the back to take advantage of it,” says Meybohm. “The floor-length windows make it very inviting.” 

The brick building was designed to have an industrial look like an old mill. “You want something that’s new, but looks like it has always been there,” says John Cates, chief operating officer. 

The building has other modern amenities such as a high-speed wireless network. There is a public network for the lobby and parking areas and a private network for Meybohm. 

“From a real estate perspective, our business is changing,” says Mike Polatty, president and chief executive officer. “We wanted to create an office where the younger generation and existing Realtors want to come to work every day.” 

Along with the available retail space, the rooftop is a welcoming feature for the community as well.

With 1,300 square feet for corporate events and other parties, the rooftop includes indoor space with a bar, an industrial warming kitchen, five TVs and a partially covered veranda with ceiling fans overhead and heaters in the winter. The space can accommodate up to 300 people and seat 120 to 140 people. A preferred list of caterers is available.

More to Come
The 22-acre site, which will be anchored by the Columbia County Performing Arts Center that is under construction, will include two additional phases. Each phase has the capacity for three buildings. 

The second building in Phase I will include 45,000 square feet of retail and professional space, and the third building will house 20,000 square feet of professional or retail space. The second and third buildings will front the PAC.

However, the 225-space parking deck, which is part of Phase II and has been put out for construction bids by the county, will be the next structure built. 

“It’s going to maintain its integrity,” Polatty says of the development project. “It’s going to look like it all belongs together as new pieces are added.” 

The county sought public input about the development of the area, and Cates says community members offered good ideas, particularly about potential retail tenants. 

“If retailers in places like Atlanta, Charleston and Charlotte can see that there is a consumer demand for them here, it helps us pitch this space to them,” he says. 

A farmer’s market as well as additional green space for events will be built next to the PAC. 

A raised crosswalk across Evans Town Center Boulevard connects The Plaza with Evans Towne Center Park to slow traffic and to make it seem like a typical downtown area. The road also is designed to be closed during events. 

“It slows the road down to make you feel like you’ve arrived somewhere,” says Cates. “There are world-class events here. This will turn an isolated venue into a gathering space.”

Most of the events at Evans Towne Center Park and Lady Antebellum Amphitheater attract 8,000 to 12,000 people. “This is a natural adjunct to that,” says Meybohm. 

The PAC will attract even more events – and people – to the area. In addition, a terraced green space in The Plaza allows for concerts and other uses of the venue.

“We want the community to feel like they can come here and stay here,” says Prather. “They can spend quality time in the area.” 

Residential development is shifting to Columbia County, Meybohm says, and The Plaza could include residential space “if there is a market for it.” The residential spaces could include apartments or townhomes. However, says Meybohm, “it has to be affordable.”

“This is part of something much bigger. This will give Columbia County an identity going forward,” says Cates. “A lot of this doesn’t exist in Columbia County yet. This building and this area is a little bit ahead of its time. Everything we’re doing is new, and it’s different. It’s something you’re seeing in larger markets.” 

By Betsy Gilliland

What’s New

What's New 2018

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is plenty of construction underway in Columbia County, but that’s just business as usual for this growing area

Growth has become synonymous with Columbia County, as the seemingly never-ending construction projects in the area indicate. Andrew Strickland, the county Planning Services Division director, calls the pace of the growth in Columbia County “a challenge and a blessing.”

“Some places see a lot of growth over time, but here in Columbia County, we see growth quickly,” he says. “You get one crack at getting it right. We continue to address the needs of newcomers to the community and the existing community as well.”

The cities of Grovetown and Harlem also are trying to strike the right balance between long-time residents and new residents.

“We have to know, understand and respect the attitudes and desires of people that have lived here for generations and always called Grovetown home,” says John Waller, the city administrator. “We also need to accommodate new folks that are coming here and want certain levels of amenities and quality of life.” 

Grovetown officials have worked with elected officials to hire skilled, experienced staff members to help handle growth. Waller also stays in close contact with the garrison commander at Fort Gordon about its plans that affect the city, and vice versa. 

“We need to make sure we are managing growth rather than having growth manage us. We’re not a 4,000-person, sleepy town anymore,” he says. “As the county grows, the city grows. As Fort Gordon brings in more cyber folks, that continues to bring people in to the city.”

Brett Cook, Harlem’s city manager, says that allocating time adequately and judiciously is the biggest challenge to managing growth in the community.

Opening- closeup“We’re making sure that we look at the short term, long term and all the ancillary activities associated with growth. We have to look 20 years down the road,” he says. “It’s like playing Monopoly. We have to pick out key properties and figure out how to use them. If we’re not careful, we’ll end up with Mediterranean and Baltic avenues instead of Boardwalk and Park Place.”

Harlem also has expanded its staff to include building inspectors, code enforcement officers and a new downtown development director.

“The Columbia County school system brings people to Harlem, and everything on the other end of the county is completely built out,” Cook says. “The environment attracts people as well. People from Evans are moving to the Appling-Harlem area. They’re looking for a quieter lifestyle.” 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the estimated population in Columbia County was 151,579 in July of 2017 and 147,450 in July of 2016. In Grovetown, the estimated population in July of 2017 was 14,109 and 13,463 in July of 2016. The estimated population of Harlem was 3,143 in 2017 and 3,018 in 2016.

“Columbia County is just a great place to live because of the quality of life and the school system,” says Strickland. In addition, he says, residents have more housing and cultural opportunity choices in the county now.

“Our growth has been really, really phenomenal,” says Cook. “Our population has grown by about 12 percent in the last few years. Our tax digest has grown by 25 percent in the last two years – 10 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2018.” 

Vision 2035, the county’ comprehensive plan for growth and development that was adopted in 2016, continues to guide growth in the county. The plan is slated for revision every five years, and the first revision will come in 2021. “This is the community’s idea of how growth should happen in Columbia County,” Strickland says.

Residents have been responsive at public hearings and in surveys and online town halls about managing growth and development, he says, and one of the most effective ways to manage growth is to “listen to the community because the community knows what it wants.” 

“The mood is changing in Columbia County,” says Strickland. “Folks want to be involved in the process. Newcomers have taken a lead in getting involved, and that has made folks who have been here a long time take notice.” 

From August 1, 2017 through August 15, 2018, the county issued 970 residential building permits and 139 commercial building permits. From August 1, 2016 through August 25, 2017, Columbia County issued 1,213 residential building permits and 92 commercial building permits.

From August 1, 2017 through August 15, 2018, Grovetown issued 250 residential building permits and three commercial building permits. From August 2016 to August 2017, Grovetown issued 232 permits for new residential construction and three permits for new commercial construction.

From August 1, 2017 through August 15, 2018, Harlem issued 102 residential building permits and five commercial building permits. From January through August of 2017, Harlem issued 40 permits for new residential construction. The city did not issue any commercial construction permits during that time frame. 

By Leigh Howard


Make Yourself at Home

What's New 2018

Bell-TowerHomes are being built in Columbia County in new neighborhoods such as Bell Tower and River Oaks. Both of these neighborhoods are situated off of Hardy McManus Road. “These are in-fill developments that were originally parcels that were privately owned,” says Strickland.

Bell Tower has 67 lots, and River Oaks will have 150 to 160 lots in the entire development.

However, Strickland says, “In past years we have had a lot of residential growth, but new houses and new neighborhoods have waned. Now, we’re seeing the need for services for all those folks. We’re seeing more commercial development.”

In Grovetown, Waller says, “We are continuing construction from some of last year’s projects.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASingle-family homes are under construction in the city in subdivisions such as Caroleton and Euchee Lake on Harlem Grovetown Road.

Land clearing for phase II of Joiner Crossing, a community of 83 townhomes on Katherine Street, is underway, and four of 10 apartment buildings in Highland Hills have been built at George and Bennett streets. Both of these developments are located on former mobile home sites.

Activity also continues in the multi-use development of Brighton Landing off of John Huffman Way behind Augusta Tech. The project, which will be completed in six or seven phases, includes single-family homes, townhomes, commercial office space and light industrial development. Currently, land is being cleared and infrastructure is being installed for the first phase of townhomes. 

Construction of Grovetown Crossing 3, a townhouse community on Dodge Lane, has been completed.

West ForrestThe city, which put a moratorium on multi-family development in April 2017, has completed the first of two phases of rezoning action. The review has been completed on property north of Robinson Avenue, and Waller says, “We rezoned more than 100 parcels to be single-family, detached only.”

City officials are in the process of reviewing land south of Robinson Avenue to see if the infrastructure is appropriate for development, and Waller expects the moratorium to extend to the spring of 2019. “When the wastewater treatment plant goes live, we will lift the multi-family development moratorium,” he says. “We can develop areas of the city that haven’t been able to be developed for the last several years.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe infrastructure is complete, and homes are being built in Harlem’s West Forrest subdivision. The infrastructure also has been finished in Cornerstone III and IV. Groundbreaking also started this summer for 95 townhouses in Amesbury, the first multi-family project in Harlem. 

Land clearing and site work is underway in Greenpoint, which ultimately will include 600 homes, on Appling Harlem Road as well. “It will be similar to Riverwood with commercial development in the future, but there are no plans yet,” Strickland says.

What’s in Store

What's New 2018

Gateway shopping centerCommercial construction is booming in other parts of the county, however. “Gateway continues to be the hottest commercial spot in the county right now,” says Strickland.

A new shopping center beside Walmart in Grovetown feature retails outlets such as Dollar Tree, Hibbett Sports and Pet Sense. Other commercial space also is under construction in the Gateway area, including buildings on Meridian Drive and Gateway Boulevard. The 15,000-square-foot Mill at Gateway is expected to be completed by the beginning of October. Chicken Salad Chick will be the anchor tenant, says E.G. Meybohm, chairman of Meybohm Real Estate, and 50 percent of the space has been preleased.

In November, World Class Industries, a direct supplier to the world’s largest original equipment manufacturers, announced it was breaking ground on a new 50,000 square foot facility in Horizon South Industrial Park in Grovetown.

Ivey Corporate OfficeA Hollywood Self-Storage facility is under construction in the city on East Robinson Avenue. Plans also have been approved for a new daycare center called Big Blue Marble, which will be located on Harlem Grovetown Road.

Club Car broke ground in March on a 550,000-square-foot location off of Appling Harlem Road northwest of Interstate 20. The facility, located in a center called White Oak Business Park, will be the future site of Club Car’s new distribution center and consolidated parts and materials warehouse. The business park, which totals nearly 300 acres, focuses on strengthening the county’s manufacturing sector while preserving the area’s natural resources.

“This will be a huge amenity for Columbia County,” says Strickland. “There are plans to add other industrial tenants there. 

At Mullins Colony, Strickland says, “There has been a lot of interest in the outparcels along Washington Road.”

Evans Trade CenterIvey Residential is constructing a corporate office on Industrial Park Boulevard, and ReMax True Advantage has a new building under construction on Evans to Locks Road. A home away from home for pets, Paws in Paradise Luxury Resort & Spa, is locating off of Evans to Locks Road.

AR Workshop, a boutique DIY studio that offers classes for creating custom home décor from raw materials, opened in the Market Place at Riverwood this summer.

“It keeps folks from having to go to neighboring communities to eat, shop and spend money,” Strickland says of new business in the county. “It also relieves stress on roadways.”

Gateway Boulevard constructionOther new types of businesses – and new use for spaces – are coming to Columbia County as well. 

In July the Board of Commissioners approved motions to rezone two parcels of land – 39 acres at the corner of Ray Owens and Yelton roads and 75-plus acres on Ridge Road – for use as solar farms. “We could see these on the ground in the next couple of years,” Strickland says. 

To build solar farms, third-party solar providers lease land from property owners and then sell the power back to Georgia Power. 

Meridian Drive constructionEvans Trade Center on Columbia Industrial Boulevard includes co-working office space, and another building for shared office space is under construction there. “There is a big market for co-working space. People want to have a different kind of space than a strip center,” says Strickland. 

The first building in the highly anticipated The Plaza at Evans Towne Center was expected to open in the latter part of September. This phase of the development will include the Meybohm Real Estate headquarters, and, Strickland says, the common space will be deeded over to the county.

Mill At GatewayIn June the county invited residents to comment on four preliminary concept plans for the urban design around Evans Towne Center Park and the mixed-use development plaza that includes the new Columbia County Performing Arts Center. According to Strickland, residents supported housing options such as townhouses, condominiums and small-lot, single-family dwellings; retail space; office or residential space above commercial space; sidewalks; a plaza, green space and trails. 

“They want this area to be different from other areas of Columbia County. They want a pedestrian-oriented, walkable, mixed-use development,” Strickland says. “That’s something we’re going to have to have in the long run to make this area successful.” 

He says the county commissioners hopefully would adopt a plan for the area by the end of September.

Paris Natural Nail BarIn Grovetown, Waller says, “A number of things we’ve done are infrastructure and capital improvements.” 

The city started construction of its new, $24 million wastewater treatment plant, which will put out 3 million gallons of water per day, last year. “It is scheduled to be operational in the spring of 2019,” Waller says. “It can accommodate the current population, and if we double our population, it will accommodate that.”

The city also began rehabilitation of three drinking water wells, which will increase its production. “Every gallon we can produce on our own is a gallon we don’t have to buy from Columbia County,” Waller says. 

Paws In ParadiseIn addition, Grovetown has cleaned eight overgrown detention ponds. “This is a significant step in our storm water management program,” says Waller. 

The city of Harlem has completed letters of condition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the hopes of getting the go-ahead in November to begin infrastructure improvements and new infrastructure projects.

“This is a $14 million project that will triple the capacity of our wastewater treatment plant and extend water lines for service into areas that are growing inside and outside the city,” Cook says.