What’s going on with Station Xchange?
The question has been asked often since 2006 – when the build-out date advertised by developers passed and the project was still incomplete. More than two years later, the project remains unfinished, though construction appears to be picking back up.
Here’s a look where the project is, where it’s been and where developers want it to go.
In 2005, land developer/dentist Bill Trout and his original partners broke ground on Station Xchange, on land adjacent to Trout’s dentist office.
They announced a development project they said would be the new center of town, complete with top-notch restaurants, shops and regularly-scheduled festivals.
As construction got underway, a sign was erected near the roadway which included a conceptual drawing of the project as well as the words, ‘Coming in 2006.’
But that date was changed to 2007, then 2008 as the construction appeared to cease.
The main contributor to the hold-up may have been the break-up of the development team: Trout, co-owner and project manager Andy Foley and co-owner and architect Rick Wissmach.
"We (Trout, Foley, and Wissmach) had some communication problems and the financial backing was no longer there," Trout said.
Foley and Wissmach declined to comment.
One thing is for sure - the project was clearly not completed on time. What’s more, the loan clinched to complete the project apparently dried up.
The legals section of the Bryan County News even listed multiple foreclosure notices on at least one of the buildings being constructed at the site.
Trout said construction picked back up in 2007, but the funds were unavailable and many of the subcontractors who worked on the project remain unpaid today. Construction again ceased, leaving some subcontractors disgruntled.
"When Trout said there was no money left, we pulled out," said Chuck Morse of CRC construction. "To this day, he owes me $52,000 for construction on both buildings. The description of someone who does not render payment for service is stealing, and that’s what occurred here."
Morse and several other subcontractors have filed liens against Station Xchange.
Trout denies allegations that his divorce to Julie Trout, which occurred around the time construction ceased, was the downfall of Station Xchange.
He said it "certainly didn’t help" and caused him a lot of personal grief - including spending nine days in Bryan County Jail in April for contempt of court for non compliance of a court order before claiming personal bankruptcy to get out.
However, Trout said that early on in the divorce proceedings, a Superior Court judge granted him full possession of his share of Station Xchange.
In an April letter to the Bryan County News, Trout said the project, when construction ceased, "had a negative cash flow in excess of $20,000 a month and neither of the two other partners were willing to contribute a dime and left that massive financial obligation up to me to figure out … In addition, when subs were hired by the contractor (Foley) and no more funds were available to pay those outstanding invoices due, my name along with my now wife’s name (Brandy Williams) and personal phone number were provided to those subs and they were all led to believe that the balance due was 100 percent my financial responsibility and I was to take care of it."
Some construction managed to get completed, however. Several store fronts were finished as well as the square in the center, which features an elaborate fountain and stage made from an old train car.
Several businesses, such as a candy store, fitness center and organic market, are currently open for business. Station Xchange has also played host to several small weekend festivals, featuring live music and dance, as well as the popular Christmas Xtravaganza event, which has taken place the last several years after the city’s Christmas parade and has included live music, arts and crafts and a ‘winter wonderland’ event with machine-generated snow.
Fast forward to April 2009 and thus begins a new chapter in the Station Xchange project.
Trout enlisted an old business partner, Ricky Newman of Production Painting in Savannah, who bought out Foley’s and Wissmach’s shares in the development for a combined $350,000.
Newman and Trout now plan to revive much of the original concept for Station Xchange - and construction is already underway.
"We saw Bill’s vision and we liked what we saw," said Shannon Newman, Ricky’s wife and business partner. "We feel privileged to be apart of Station Xchange."
Ricky Newman said the "excitement is back again" and he is anxious to get construction completed on the project, which he projects will finally be within six months.
What about those subcontractors who are still owed money?
Trout said he assumed all debt as part of the recent buy-out and "we plan to meet with each subcontractor from the previous partnership to try to come to terms. Some of them have been amazingly patient, which I’m very grateful for. I don’t want any blemishes on this project, and I hope to have everyone taken care of within the next 12 months."
The biggest business slated for Station Xchange, which is still under construction, is entrepreneur Victor Pisano’s BluCarat Pizzeria and Tavern. Pisano, co-creator of the huge House of Blues franchise, told the Bryan County News in a 2007 interview that he was looking to start up a new franchise, with the Station Xchange targeted as the site of the very first BluCarat, which was to include his own brand of "low country Italian cuisine" as well as live music. He projected that the restaurant would open later that year.
More recently, Pisano said, "One of the things I do is write, produce and direct musicals and plays. I believe eating out should be entertainment as well. But before I can mount any show, I obviously need a theater to put it in. The BluCarat has always thought that the Station Xchange complex would provide the perfect location for us in Richmond Hill – we would put on our show in one of the buildings there. We even paid for the design. We’ve been waiting for three years now, but I think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – stage lights to throw pizza dough. But, there was a point though, many times, that we felt it was all going against us."
"I really do hope this project succeeds," Wissmach said. "I truly believe it has all the elements Richmond Hill is lacking, and it will go hand in hand with the city’s plans to improve Hwy. 144. Bill has a new partner that seems to be very involved in it, and I wish him the best of luck."
Wissmach said the project will be taken to new heights when Pisano’s BluCarat restaurant finally becomes a reality.
"Pisano’s restaurant will add a layer and dimension that few understand," Wissmach said. "The depth of his concept and his resourcing should make for a huge success. Once that is in place, it will draw other quality businesses that can piggy back onto that success."
And the current six-plus acres you see now as the Station Xchange is just the first phase of the total 20 acres to eventually be developed.
Future phases over the next 10 years will include residential and added retail space. A two-screen movie theater is being discussed for a future phase as well.
"We’re finally going to bring about what we intended to do when we first brought this concept to the city council in 1999," Trout said. "Within a year’s time, you should really see some progress within Station Xchange."