Editor’s Note: Joe Edge is the qualifying broker and President of Sherman & Hemstreet Real Estate Co. and the Publisher of The Augusta Press.
For seven years, one of Augusta’s largest buildings has sat idle. The sleeping giant Lamar Building was foreclosed on in August 2014 and later sold in 2016 for $820,000. The building contains just over 96,000 square feet of space.
In 2018, the building suffered severe flooding when a fire sprinkler line froze and burst. More recently, the historic building has suffered vandalism.
There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the building which once housed the Southern Finance Co.
Sherman & Hemstreet Real Estate Company agent Matt Aitken brokered a deal with a regional developer to purchase and renovate the building. The details cannot be disclosed at this point because the transaction is still pending.
Sherman & Hemstreet previously occupied the 12th floor of the Lamar building until 2008.
Over the last few years, multiple groups have attempted to buy the building. Most of the uses proposed by prospective buyers have not been for office space, despite that being the historic use for the building.
Several groups proposed using the building for high-end apartments or as a boutique hotel. Half of the ground floor previously housed a sandwich shop. The other half was previously a bank and still has a vault door to a safe in place. That portion has been vacant for over 50 years.
The chances of the building being used as office space are very slim. Someone could convert the building into a mixed-use development with a combination of retail on the ground floor, office space on several floors and apartments on the remaining floors. The entire building being renovated as office space is cost-prohibitive with construction costs being high and rental rates and demand low.
The amount of vacant office space in Augusta’s downtown corridor has been on the rise in the last 18 months. As a result, asking rates for office space have been dropping.
The Lamar Building is on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic nature of the building enables developers to utilize tax credits to help offset renovation costs.
The glass penthouse on top was added in 1976. Architect I. M. Pei designed the addition, having also designed the glass pyramid for the Louvre in Paris. The penthouse has suffered significant differed maintenance in recent years.
Construction on the main building began in 1913, but the 1916 Great Augusta Fire, which burned 32 blocks downtown, gutted the building and pushed construction back two years.
Empire Life Insurance Company was the original name, but by the time the building was completed, it was commonly known as the “Lamar Building.” That name was in honor of Joseph Rucker Lamar, who was an associate Supreme Court Justice who had lived in Augusta.
From 1925 through today, the building was also known as the Southern Finance Building, named after the company that bought and occupied the site.
One of the three elevators is a freight elevator dating back to 1913, which makes it the oldest in Augusta. The Lamar Building was the first of what is considered “modern” office buildings in Augusta.