City administrator reveals details on building TEE center

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 8:04 PM
Last updated Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010 10:48 PM
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City Administrator Fred Russell revealed details today on how he proposes to build the trade, exhibit and event center and redevelop the Laney Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods.

The issues have been intertwined since 2007, when the Augusta Commission approved the TEE center two years after voters did so under a compromise that set aside $750,000 per year from a $1 hotel fee for revitalizing the inner city.

Mr. Russell’s plan, which he presented to commissioners, involves:

• Creating a new authority, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, with bonding powers and five members chosen by commissioners and possibly the mayor. The commission, not the state legislature, would establish the authority.

• Issuing a total $35 million in bonds, $2 million of which would be through the city’s tax allocation district, with debt issued against future increases in property taxes.

• Reducing the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority’s share of hotel/motel taxes by $1 million per year and putting it toward TEE center bond payments. The authority currently gets about $2.3 million per year, with around $1.2 million going toward the bond that build the James Brown Arena, which will be paid off in February.

• Raising the city’s hotel/motel tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to generate another $600,000 per year, also for TEE center bond payments.

With bonds needing to be issued for such disparate interests as an exposition center and cleaning up urban blight, Mr. Russell said forming a new authority will be the easiest way to go about it. The coliseum authority, for example, could issue bonds for the TEE center, but not for revitalization.

“This group could do both development and the buildings,” he said. “The lawyers said that was the best way to do it.”

Commissioners, who will make the ultimate decisions on the plan, might feel differently. Last year, they were resistant to the idea of forming a south Augusta version of the Downtown Development Authority, saying the city didn’t need yet another narrowly focused committee and that the coliseum authority had sullied the very word “authority.”

“We are and have been asking questions about how it can be done differently,” Commissioner Jerry Brigham said Wednesday.

Voters approved $20 million for the TEE center in the 2005 sales tax package, but building a facility of that scale on such a budget was a stretch. It’s now projected to cost $38 million, plus $17 million for a parking deck.

Mr. Russell is proposing to issue $26 million in revenue bonds for the TEE center – $17 for the parking deck and $9 million toward construction.

Another $9 million – $7 million in revenue bonds, $2 million in TAD bonds – would be issued to kick start the Laney Walker and Bethlehem programs. Of the $750,000 from the $1 hotel fee, $500,000 would be used for the revenue bond payments and the rest would go toward redevelopment projects.

In his presentation today, the administrator showed slides with new and remodeled houses superimposed on Pine and Twiggs streets. Mr. Russell said private developers would do the building. The bond money would be for infrastructure and low-interest loans for developers.

Commissioner Calvin Holland said he generally liked the plan, but with so much money about to pass through, he asked that diversity be taken into account when choosing contractors.


TEE Center breakdown

The Reynolds Street TEE center is projected to cost $38 million. Here’s how City Administrator Fred Russell proposes to pay for it.

SPLOST collections: $20 million

Excess SPLOST collections: $5 million

SPLOST interest earnings: $2.5 million

Bond financing: $9 million

Savings from judicial center construction coming in under budget: $1.5 million

Here’s how Mr. Russell proposes to pay back the $26 million in TEE center bonds – $9 million for exposition center construction and $17 million for a parking deck:

Reducing the Coliseum Authority’s share of hotel/motel taxes: $1 million per year

Increasing hotel/motel taxes by 1 percent: $600,000 per year

Reimposing the 3 percent rental car tax, which is currently being used to pay off bonds on two other city parking decks: $425,000 per year

Parking deck profits: $100,000 per year

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themaninthemirror 04/29/09 - 10:09 pm
Why not put millions into

Why not put millions into razing the existing civic center and biulding a brand new one that will be large enough to attract the kind of events that the CSRa would like to see. The new TEE center could be included in it. Seems a little off base to have so many places and so few events.

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