Evans-based JANUS Research Group wins part of a $247M military contract.

JANUS Research Group was military contracting in Augusta when military contracting wasn’t cool.

The company Tony and Jeannette Loop started at their dining room table in 1997 has carved out a quite a niche developing video game-style training programs and communication systems for the U.S. military.

Over the years the Evans-based company has won its share of deals, but none bigger than the five-year, $247 million contract it and four other companies scored last month to create simulation-based tools for the Army.

The indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract announced July 23 includes the creation of “concepts (and) strategies instruction for current and future” forces for all commands at Fort Sill, Okla. – including its Fires Center of Excellence – as well as the new four-star Army Futures Command in Austin, Texas.

“JANUS and our subcontractors, working together as TEAM JANUS, will provide a range of service and solutions that include concept, capability, and doctrine development, developing and conducting live, virtual, and constructive simulation-based analyses, studies, training, and experiments, and providing information technology services for Field Artillery (FA), Air Defense Artillery (ADA), and the AFC,” the company said in a news release.

That’s a fancy way of saying it will develop technology to help the Army blow up the bad guys.

The 94,000-square-mile Fort Sill is home to the Army and Marine Corps’ field artillery school as well as the Army Air Defense Artillery School. Army Futures Command is a clearinghouse of sorts for acquiring multi-domain technology for the 21st century battlefield.

All in all, a pretty big deal.

My corny opening paragraph (apologies to Barbara Mandrell) was a ham-fisted attempt to illustrate the inroads Augusta is making in the defense-tech industry; JANUS was playing in the military IT space long before “cyber” was one of the first 10 words Augusta toddlers learned to speak.

With any luck, the next JANUS is being created somewhere in metro Augusta right now…

SOMETHING TO CHEER ABOUT: From this week’s “new construction” file comes a $1.85 million permit for the Augusta Cheer Academy at 107 Bellewood Drive in Martinez.

Bellewood Drive is the dead-end street off Baston Road near the southwest corner of the Furys Ferry Road intersection (between Augusta Christian Schools and Poblano’s Mexican Grill).

Augusta Cheer Academy is the cheerleading/tumbling/stunting school that occupies four storefronts – about 5,000 square feet – in the Park Place shopping center on Washington Road in Evans (the strip mall across the street from Club Car).

However, a $1.85 million permit on a 1.3-acre greenfield lot suggests the home of the “National Stars” cheerleading program won’t be at Park Place for very much longer.

A bigger building provides more room for tumbling.

HOME IS WHERE YOU MAKE IT: Just over a half mile, as the crow flies, from Bellewood Drive is 487 Furys Ferry Road, one of two (possible) locations for new subsidized housing units in Columbia County.

Rent-subsidized complexes aren’t new to Columbia County. I happen to live 900 feet, as the crow flies, from one. But what makes this new proposal, called the Woods at Reed Creek, unique is that it would back up to homes in the gated West Lake subdivision – one of the county’s priciest neighborhoods.

And the proposed 38-unit Woods community isn’t even the largest affordable housing project in the county’s pipeline; a separate out-of-town developer has applied for tax-credit permits to build a 90-unit apartment-style complex on Hardy McManus Road called Evans Commons.

Both projects, if approved by local officials, would offer 50%- to 60% rent subsidies to qualifying residents, similar to those offered at the former Wedgewood Park apartment complex (which has been renamed Lakeside on Riverwatch) that was built off Old Evans Road in 2001 and the Magnolia Trace neighborhood constructed in 2012 off Old Ferry Road.

Instead of direct subsidies to residents, developers of these communities are able to offer below-market-rate rents by obtaining federal Low-Income Housing Credits through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Obviously, people paying full fare on their rents and mortgages aren’t always quick to roll out the welcome wagon for new neighbors getting a discount. A Facebook page already has been created to oppose both projects.

The Lakeside on Riverwatch and Magnolia Trace developments sailed through the county government approval process despite protests. It should be interesting (entertaining?) to see what happens with the Woods at Reed Creek and Evans Commons proposals.

It was fairly easy to steamroll residents living in older neighborhoods where non-subsidized homes sell in the $100K-$150K range. It may not be so easy pulling that over on folks living in $300K-and-up census tracts.

NICE RENTS, BETTER RETURNS: From the standpoint of a real estate investor, it’s hard to beat owning a subsidized-housing development. For one, you don’t have to be very creative with the construction or the amenities (lower-income folks usually aren’t discerning tenants). Second, you’re practically guaranteed a return on your investment because the person helping bear the cost (that would be you) has no say in the matter.

This is why, if I were a betting man, I’d wager the Bon Air and Richmond Summit apartments – two famously low-rent addresses in Augusta – are going to remain subsidized communities for the foreseeable future.

Both properties have been up for sale since spring, and both are being marketed by the Atlanta office of Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle. Both properties come with long-term housing assistance payment (or “HAP”) contracts, under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 program.

The historic Bon Air property off Walton Way has 202 units; Broad Street’s Richmond Summit has 135. At 100% occupancy, acquiring either or both buildings as-is would give the new owners automatic cash flow backed by Uncle Sam.

But wait! Why wouldn’t a forward-thinking investor convert one, or both, of these charm-laden historic buildings into market-rate apartments for upwardly mobile young professionals seeking an urban lifestyle? You must not have read the previous paragraph very carefully.

Real estate investors are in the business of making money, and nine times out of 10, they choose the path of least resistance (which is often how they ended up with the capital to invest in real estate in the first place). It is far, far easier for an investor to make money buying a fully occupied residential building with a stable, albeit low-rent, clientele than it is to buy the same building and invest a boatload of money into renovations and code-compliance upgrades before the first dime of income drops through the mail slot.

Buying and doing nothing is a low-risk/medium-reward scenario; buying and doing something is a high-risk/medium-reward scenario. At least in present-day Augusta. A massive renovation would make perfect sense if this were New York, Seattle or San Francisco – or even midtown Atlanta – as the steep rents those markets command practically beg for such an investment.

Downtown Augusta is not yet to the point where existing rents can justify the huge capital outlay involved in a residential flip. This is why downtown buildings with serious residential potential that could be bought for song (the Lamar and Marion buildings come to mind) sit vacant year after year. They’re just too risky for the typical investor – even when historic-renovation tax credits are factored in.

Would Augusta’s urban core be energized by converting the Bon Air and Richmond Summit into market-rate properties? Absolutely.

Would the elderly and disabled residents of those mid-rise buildings be better served elsewhere? Absolutely.

Will one, or both, of these grand dames get elevated to their highest and best use before I reach retirement age? Doubtful.

Of course, I’m reminded of something Winston Churchill once said: “In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.”

I hope some investor out there makes me eat my words on the Bon Air and Richmond Summit. I really do. I would gladly partake of the feast.

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