Commission passes TEE center plan

More than seven months after the issue split the board along racial lines in what at times seemed like an unbreakable gridlock, the Augusta Commission has passed a plan that will begin construction of a trade, exhibit and event center and revitalization of the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods.

The plan passed 7-1-1, with Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason voting no, Betty Beard abstaining and Calvin Holland absent.

The TEE center will be built at the previously agreed-upon site on Reynolds Street, and operated by Augusta Riverfront LLC, which runs the existing convention center inside the Augusta Mariott Hotel & Suites.

A 400-space parking deck will be built across the street for $10 million, with Augusta Riverfront donating most of the necessary land.

Also under the vote, an $8 million bond will be issued to kick-start redevelopment efforts in Laney-Walker and Bethlehem. Because a lack of funds has ground the projects to a halt, $1 million will be taken from the general fund and put into the initiative for the short-term, then paid back with bond proceeds.

The motion to approve was made by Don Grantham and seconded by J.R. Hatney.

In his motion, Mr. Grantham tweaked the formula for spending proceeds of a $1-a-night bed fee. The first $350,000 will go toward TEE center operations, the next $750,000 will go toward the inner-city neighborhoods and the next $400,000 will go to Augusta Public Transit.

Any collections over $1.5 million per year will be split 60-40 percent - 60 percent to expand the bus system and 40 percent for a special fund for revitalizing neighborhoods throughout the city.

Mr. Hatney said he wanted to get the deal passed today because he feared if it waited until next year, when Commissioner-elect Matt Aitken joins the board and whites have a 6-4 majority, the inner-city projects could be taken out of the package completely.

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