After several years of trying, the long-awaited downtown business improvement district might see the light of day.
As of Tuesday, the Downtown Development Authority had collected 104 signatures from property owners within the special district, known as the BID, one more than the 103 needed to reach 51 percent.
The addition Tuesday of Morris Communications Co. LLC and its affiliated businesses - the largest property owners in downtown - pushed the petition past 103 and also helped it exceed the targeted 51 percent mark for total assessed value, or $27 million.
Margaret Woodard, the executive director of the development authority, said she hasn't added up just yet how much the BID exceeded the $27 million, but said it was "much more."
"I think the Morris family is pleased with this because they are supportive of downtown," said Ed Skinner, a representative of Morris Communications, parent company of The Augusta Chronicle.
Ms. Woodard said that although meeting only one of those benchmarks was necessary, reaching both makes Augusta only the second city in Georgia to do so.
"This shows that property owners believe in investing in downtown," she said, adding that it was the most important initiative the development authority had ever undertaken.
The BID, which would go into effect Jan. 1, would create a $337,000 fund to provide services such as additional security and maintenance to business owners within its boundaries. It would be funded through an additional property tax collected by the city and turned over to the property-owner controlled board of directors. The city will receive a 1 percent administrative fee.
The next step is getting approval from the Augusta Commission in July. Should commissioners green light the project, it can be sent to the state's revenue commissioner by the Aug. 1 deadline, Ms. Woodard said.
The BID will consist of two zones. Zone one, the largest, would stretch roughly from Albion Way, a small alleyway east of Eighth Street, west to 13th Street. The riverfront would form the zone's north border, and Greene Street would form its south border. Properties inside the boundaries would pay an additional 0.00725 cents per $1 of assessed value.
Zone two, which comprises the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites and the adjacent Augusta Riverfront Center office building, would pay an additional 0.006 cents per dollar of assessed value. Morris also volunteered to have its properties on Sixth and Seventh streets, just past the east boundary of zone one, included in the BID.
The BID has been discussed off and on for several years. Previous attempts were stymied by failure to garner enough support from major property owners.
Barry White, the president of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the BID will help create a safer, cleaner downtown that will help attract visitors and businesses.
He also said he hopes the creation of the BID will help encourage commissioners to approve the Augusta Marriott as the site for the proposed trade, event and exhibit center next month.
Ms. Woodard said Tuesday that the development authority is still accepting petitions and businesses outside the zone can also opt in.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he doesn't expect any problems before the commission next month. "I think people are going to be shocked with how downtown will look after this," he said.
Reach Laura Youngs at (706) 823-3227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.