Given all that is happening in the small town of Augusta – as the Hoffmann Family of Companies works to bring in tourists via car, trolley and riverboat – what are local residents feeling?
In recent days, Mid Rivers Newsmagazine reached out to several long-term residents of Augusta to hear their views.
Those with the most concerns, however, were also reluctant to go on record by name.
Four residents who have lived in Augusta for many decades and are descendants of families who have been there since the 1800s were among those who asked for anonymity. Overall, they said they have mixed feelings but are trying to keep an open mind about the entire process. They said they hope the businesses that company CEO David Hoffmann talks of bringing to Augusta will benefit local residents. They said they see many good things if the gas station, restaurant and businesses do open in town as planned and generate more employment. As far as increased traffic and more people, they realize those things come with successful businesses.
One sore spot was the removal of so many 50- to 60-year-old trees from the wineries and properties in town.
“What do they have against trees?” one resident asked. “I hear they’re also taking them down at the Emmaus property they recently acquired.”
Despite their angst, they all agreed that the company has the right to do what they want with the properties it now owns.
Kyle Orf, who was born and raised in Augusta, said the transformation of the town is a “good thing.”
“My family has been in Augusta since 1830,” he said. “I saw Augusta’s historic buildings in town become dilapidated and in need of repair, and now the Hoffmanns are reinvigorating them. That is a good thing.
“The refurbishing work being done by the Hoffmanns has encouraged a lot of people to look at their own property and start refreshing their landscaping, lots and homes.”
He acknowledged that some people prefer Augusta as a sleepy little country town. “However, if the Hoffmanns do stick to their plans and do the things they’ve said, the result should be good for everyone. There is a pretty positive buzz around town,” he said.
Bob Hofer, chairman of Augusta’s Town Board, has lived in Augusta since 2006. He said, “It’s a challenge to get a good feel about people’s views around town. I hear a lot of good things, but I’m a positive person and tend to hear positive things.”
One positive result, he said, has been increased revenue.
“Good news,” Hofer said. “The town already has seen an increase in wine sales and sales tax revenue, caused by COVID (restrictions being lifted) and people’s desire to get outside and enjoy wineries. Then, the Hoffmann publicity increased curiosity and brought even more people to town.
“Vacant buildings in town now being renovated and revitalized will be great. Those new businesses and economic activity will help pay for city services and improved streets.”
Hofer outlined two grants from the East-West Gateway Council of Governments that will be used to improve sidewalks in town. The first grant will be used for an ADA-compliant sidewalk to run from Mount Pleasant Winery to the History Museum, to Jackson Street at the Augusta Winery, to the library on Locust Street, and ultimately to the Harmonie Verein. The work currently is in the design and permitting stage (Phase 1) with construction work targeted to start toward the end of 2022 and be completed in 2023. The second grant (Phase 2) will be used for a sidewalk around the town square at the center of Augusta and along Chestnut and Walnut streets around the town hall, post office and school. That work is targeted for 2023-2024.
Randal Oaks and his wife, Marj, bought a 160-year-old home in Augusta in 1997. For seven years, they operated Kate’s Coffee, a popular bistro in the town; however, in March, he sold the coffee house property to Root Food + Wine. Root opened in April as a new farm-to-table restaurant. Oaks continues to operate The Conservatory Bed & Breakfast, the Oaks Crossing Conference Center and American Kitchen and Backyard Design, which he started in 1999. He thinks what the company is doing is necessary and will be great for the town long-term.
“The Hoffmanns could have gone two ways with their changes,” Oaks said. “One, they could have used government grants through the town, county, and state, with lots of cooks in the kitchen and years of feasibility studies. Or two, they could be entrepreneurial, with a grand vision, with private investment, and leverage the natural resources of the area (a beautiful landscape, vineyards, wineries and a unique, historic town). Keep the uniqueness of the town, retain the historical heritage of the old buildings, and restore it. (The company is) not going to please everybody, but the vast majority of town residents are in favor of the changes.”
Oaks has great expectations about the ferry to be set up between Washington, Missouri, and Klondike Park with shuttles running between the park and Hoffmann-owned properties.
“That will be a great way to get more people into the area and keep many of the cars dispersed and parked away from town,” Oaks said. “While it may be a few years before all that happens, it clearly will be a great thing.”
On June 9, a myriad of construction workers, painters and equipment operators were seen working all over town. While external work continues, there is noticeable activity inside old buildings to get them ready for the new businesses advertised as “coming soon.”
One of those new businesses is the Emmaus Complex in Marthasville that was recently acquired by the Hoffmann Family and is one of the sites being considered for a new 5-star hotel. Located in Warren County, it is about 13 driving miles from Augusta, by way of Hwy. 94 to Route T to Route D. The complex was built in 1859. All of the buildings are in various states of disrepair and will need a lot of refurbishing.
Plans for the Emmaus campus call for the creation of “Martha’s Vineyard and Winery,” the company’s fifth winery in the area, as well as housing for employees of the new 5-star hotel (wherever it will be).
A visit to the Emmaus property on June 9 confirmed what one long-term Augusta resident had said – the Hoffmann Family is already in the process of removing many of its trees.