Redevelopment agency approves budget

The agency charged with overseeing spending for redevelopment of Augusta's Laney Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods signed off on a revised $7.83 million budget for the start of the project Wednesday.

The funds come from some $8 million in bonds issued in advance of receipt of an estimated $37.5 million in hotel-motel room fees going into the project over 50 years.

The budget approved by the board of Augusta's Urban Redevelopment Agency included the addition of $1.25 million in construction, acquisition, design, marketing, consulting, architectural, engineering and other services not included in the original estimated budget presented by project director Chester Wheeler.

The agency has spent $2.09 million on the project's various components as of January 2011, said Wheeler, who is director of the city's Housing and Community Development office.

Wheeler also told URA board members of a proposal to purchase the former Penny Savings Bank, the city's only black-owned bank, and convert it into the headquarters of Housing and Community Development, which will save HCD some $200,000 in annual rent payments.

Board members include former Commissioner Betty Beard and businessman James Kendrick. Kendrick advised Wheeler to be mindful of removing buildings such as the bank from the city's tax rolls and of vacating rental buildings.

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