City committee advances redevelopment plan

A massive redevelopment project encompassing more than 1,000 acres on Augusta's east side inched along Monday.

 

The Laney Walker/Bethlehem Urban Redevelopment Plan, partially funded through a new $1 hotel-motel bed tax and approved in a December deal that also included the new Augusta trade, exhibit and event center, got approval from a city committee, as did a new agency to govern redevelopment in the area.

City Administrator Fred Russell recommended board members for the new agency, including Information Technology Director Tameka Allen, Planning Director George Patty, Historic Augusta Executive Director Erick Montgomery and former Commissioner Betty Beard.

The agency is necessary as the city prepares to issue $8 million in revenue bonds for the project, bond counsel Kenneth Neighbors said.

Other funding includes $750,000 annually from a $1 per night room tax and a $1 million loan the city authorized in December to jump-start the project.

Commissioner Matt Aitken, whose election was seen as the deciding factor in the commission's approval of both the TEE and Laney-Walker/Bethlehem projects, said redevelopment of the historic area will help all of Augusta.

"The more I'm involved in the area, District 1 and Laney-Walker, it's a huge plus, because somehow they're going to meet in the middle," Aitken said.

The district, which is roughly triangular, is bounded by Walton Way to the north, Gordon Highway, Old Savannah Road and Twiggs Street to the east and R.A. Dent Boulevard to the west.

At a public hearing on the project last week, Chester Wheeler, the director of Augusta Housing and Community Development, said his office would begin closing on land for redevelopment in the coming weeks.

The district's Holly, Pine and Florence streets will be the first target areas for redevelopment, Wheeler said.

In a final draft of the redevelopment plan released Sunday, 71 percent of the district's 2,100 buildings were found to be in deteriorated or dilapidated condition.

Four percent of Augusta's population currently resides there.

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