Inner-city development continued

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Hatney

Knowing Augusta Commissioner Betty Beard's proposal to raise $7 million for the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods was doomed to fail Tuesday, Commissioner J.R. Hatney instead proposed finding a way to keep inner-city revitalization funds from running dry.

 

He moved that City Administrator Fred Russell consult with the city's Housing and Community Development Department to ensure that the projects don't come to a standstill as commissioners haggle over the trade, exhibit and event center. Mr. Hatney also called for Mr. Russell to come up with an estimate on how much money might be needed to keep the projects going.

The commission approved his motion 9-1, with Don Grantham opposed.

"Being realistic, we weren't going to get the votes for that," Mr. Hatney said of Ms. Beard's request to use bonds, bank loans or both to jump-start redevelopment in two of the city's poorest black neighborhoods.

Since the city began collecting a $1-a-night hotel fee in April 2008 -- devised to fund inner-city efforts and operations of the downtown trade, exhibit and event center -- the city has spent $613,712 on revitalization.

According to the Finance Department, the money has been spent on land acquisition, land appraisals and fees paid to New Hampshire-based urban revitalization consultant RKG Associates Inc.

A house has already been built, and a ribbon-cutting was held a few weeks ago, City Administrator Fred Russell said.

A plan Mr. Russell presented in late April called for $9 million in bonds for the first phase of Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment and $26 million in bonds for the TEE center, which voters approved for $20 million in a 2005 sales tax referendum but is now estimated to cost $55 million, including a parking deck.

The funding plan has divided the commission along racial lines, with black commissioners contending that the TEE center's cost has ballooned to outlandish proportions and white commissioners saying that without the TEE center the hotel fee can't be legally collected.

"They did not include the TEE center in any of the recommendations they made today," Mr. Grantham said, explaining his no vote Tuesday. "Until it's included, I'm gonna vote against everything they want for Laney-Walker and Bethlehem."

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

WHAT'S NEXT?

City Administrator Fred Russell said he expects to have schematic designs for the TEE center, a timeline for funding inner-city projects and other tasks assigned to him ready for the July 7 meeting.

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