South Augusta master plan sought

Impressed with the downtown master plan unveiled last month, the Augusta Commission took steps Tuesday to have another one drawn up for the rest of the city, with a focus on areas south of Gordon Highway.

 

By a unanimous vote, the commission told City Administrator Fred Russell to negotiate with Boston-based ICON Architecture Inc., which spent nearly a year drawing up the downtown plan sponsored by Augusta Tomorrow, on a fee for picking up where it left off.

"There is a greater Augusta, and not just a downtown Augusta," said Commissioner Don Grantham, who made the motion.

Mr. Russell was also charged with figuring out a way to pay for it.

The downtown plan cost $275,000 -- $95,000 from Augusta, $31,000 from North Augusta and the rest from private donations. It conceived of an estimated $1.5 billion in projects for Augusta and North Augusta during the next 20 years.

Whatever the larger plan costs, Mr. Grantham said the city would likely pay for part of it, and he's hoping some of south Augusta's industries and employers will chip in, too. The cities of Hephzibah and Blythe might also contribute.

ICON could be hired without a bid process, Mr. Russell said, because its work is considered "professional services," an exception under city code.

Last week Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason, the chairman of the commission's South Augusta Development Initiative, said he has been quietly putting together a rough draft of a south Augusta master plan, soliciting ideas from stakeholders -- developers, banks and major employers such as International Paper, Procter & Gamble, E-Z-Go Textron and Thermal Ceramics.

Mr. Mason said last week that he wants to avoid shouldering taxpayers with the study and that he hopes some of those stakeholders will be willing to foot the bill. He refused to talk to a reporter after Tuesday's meeting.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

IN OTHER ACTION

If voters approve the $184.7 million special-purpose sales tax package June 16, City Administrator Fred Russell wants Augusta commissioners to authorize issuing up to $47 million in general obligation bonds, depending on market conditions. Collecting funds through the 1-cent sales tax takes years, and Mr. Russell is hoping to get the money quickly to pay for airport projects, the new sheriff's office administration building, a new jail pod and payback of the $10 million given to the Medical College of Georgia to buy the Gilbert Manor public housing project.

On Tuesday, commissioners authorized Mr. Russell to negotiate a fee with Atlanta law firm Kilpatrick Stockton to act as bond counsel.

In the continuing sales tax process, the commission also authorized Mayor Deke Copenhaver to sign agreements with Hephzibah and Blythe and have Mr. Russell present them to their city governments. The package includes $4.4 million for Hephzibah and $1.3 million for Blythe.