City Ink: As Hurricane Irma nears, city prepares

It’s hard to write with Irma on your mind.


What else can you think about with more hot air blowing your way than an Augusta Commission meeting? And just like a commission meeting, it’s going around in circles and could have a major impact on your life. So it’s only logical that when you have questions about which way the hot air is going to blow and what to do, you call the experts.

So I called a few and asked them how they’re getting ready for Irma.

Commissioner Grady Smith said he’s having a few margaritas first.

“And then I’m getting out my Masters umbrella and having a party with all my friends – Mr. Tibbs and Miss Agnes, my Lhasa Apsos, which are like my children.”

“I’m battening down the hatches,” said Commissioner Marion Williams. “That’s all I can do. I know who’s in charge. God is still in control.”

Commissioner Bill Fennoy has charcoal, water and a fired-up grill. And just as he did the last time a hurricane sent evacuees to Augusta, he’ll visit some shelters.

Mayor Pro Tem Mary Davis is keeping her fingers crossed that Irma weakens and isn’t as destructive as it looks to be.

“And praying that everyone stays as safe as possible,” she said.

“I have a little extra water in the house. I have a little extra food,” said Commissioner Dennis Williams. “I’m also tightening down things in the yard and watching the updates from our EMS, and I’ve got my Emergency Response Team pack ready to go help my neighbors.”

An Ill Wind: Talking about what we hope is a tempest in a teapot, we continue with the flow of hot air from Mayor Hardie Davis when he said he didn’t have much to do with mall owner Alan A. Cardinale’s proposal outlined in an Aug. 21 letter to him.

Davis was behind it all, and apparently some commissioners and city staff are keeping other commissioners as much in the dark as Regency Mall at midnight.

Cardinale issued a statement Thursday on his company’s proposal to lease the property to the city for $1 a year for 35 years for a new James Brown Arena. In it, he said they’d worked “closely and cooperatively” with Davis and the city of Augusta toward the beneficial goal of relocation.

Question: Would you buy a used car from either of them?

“Our interest is to support and encourage this very viable and exciting approach to the revitalization, growth and prosperity not only of the Gordon Highway corridor but all of Augusta,” Cardinale continued.

Translation: It’s exciting just to think of getting rid of an albatross like Regency Mall?

Cardinale’s son-in-law James McKinnon told an Augusta Chronicle staff writer that he’d met with Davis twice and had had conversations with other people in the city and the commission.

He said Cardinale properties is open to other development plans and would never say no to anything without knowing what it is.

Translation: How big a check are you going to write?

A Mall in a Poke: To see which way the hot air was blowing on Cardinale’s initial proposal, I once again turned to the experts.

Marion Williams said he liked the site but not the proposal.

“I’m not going to give up the farm for a cow,” he said. “It’s got to be more reasonable than what I’m hearing about it. They’ll come after 35 years and take it over. We, the city, have let it sit there too long. We’re not putting enough pressure as a city government on code enforcement. They say it’s worth $50 million. Are we charging the right tax bill on that?”

Grady Smith said, “Unless I had an armed guard, I wouldn’t get out of my car and walk through the parking lot at Regency Mall. The mayor was pushing this under the table. If he’s thinking he could win re-election like that, he ought to run for a seat in Harlem.”

Fennoy needs to have more discussion about the mall site before making a decision.

“I’m concerned about Richmond County putting $120 million on property that we don’t own,” he said. “Also, I’m concerned about what will happen if we have to tear the old arena down and build a new one. That will be a two-year project. I’d like to listen to what the Coliseum Authority says and let them listen to my concerns and come up with ideas that could address them.”

Mary Davis said, “With all of the growth and economic development that is happening downtown and across the river, it doesn’t make sense to me to move an entertainment facility away from that growth.”

“I believe the site is a very good site, but I would not be able to vote for it under the current agreement,” said Dennis Williams.

“According to the letter, there was nothing prohibiting the owner from selling the property from under us. We could wake up one morning and find out he’d sold it from under us. The new owner could come in and say, ‘You’ve got to go.’ ”

Ask Richmond County Students to Discuss John C. Calhoun. Better to Concentrate on Teaching the Reality of History than on Changing It: Folks are always talking about ingress and egress when it comes to arena sites. Of course, people in west Augusta and Columbia County could take Calhoun Expressway to get to the downtown James Brown Arena or one at Regency Mall, assuming they don’t get lost when they change the expressway’s name to Veterans Expressway as Fennoy is proposing.

“If I go into a community and see Rebel flags up, I’m going to get through that community as quick as I can,” Fennoy said. “And I think visitors who come to Augusta the week of the Masters and a lot of others who go downtown would wonder what kind of community we are that would honor John C. Calhoun by naming an expressway after him.

“We have a lot of local and state people that have done a lot for Augusta, and everybody says we should honor our veterans, the ones who have fought and sacrificed for us.”

Marion Williams, however, asked, “If you start changing names, where are you going to stop?”

“Either you were a slave or a slave owner in those days. History is what it is, and we need to remember, so it won’t re-occur,” he said.

Dennis Williams agreed. “That was yesterday,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that we need to be reminded of yesterday’s actions and ensure we don’t allow the bad of yesterday to come again.”

“I don’t want us to start trying to change names of roads or buildings because of something that happened in the past,” said Mary Davis. “You can’t change history, even if you don’t agree with what happened.”

Grady Smith takes a dim view of changing street names, as well as the recent NAACP rally at the Confederate monument on Broad Street.

“They spent all that money to have a crowd of 150 show up,” he said.

Interesting Man/Woman at the Mall Poll: Who Was John C. Calhoun? Who is Augusta’s Eexpressway named after?

How many do you think will know or give a good Bless-Your-Heart?

Always Helping Others: Fennoy is to be commended for spearheading a barbecue at the Marble Palace to raise money for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Friday’s barbecue raised $5,500.

“And we still have more money coming in that I’m going to pick up, and we’re going to make a presentation to the Salvation Army at our meeting Tuesday,” Fennoy said.

“I came up with the idea and started talking to some folks, and everybody I talked to said, ‘Count me in.’ But it never would have happened without the support of the city departments and residents of Richmond County.”



Pop Rocks: Augusta, my Christmas wish list has one thing

My family often accuses me of being a difficult person to Christmas shop for. While it is true that my tastes run toward the particular and tend to lean heavily on easy-to-wrap standards such as books and records, I believe that as I get older, I’m less concerned with the item than the idea. Give me something I believe you have thought about and carefully considered, and I’m happy. The present clearly purchased at the drug store the day before is met with considerably less enthusiasm.

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