Augusta’s downtown has been patrolled by a nine-man team for the past four years, and at the end of the year it will be up to the property owners to decide whether to keep them working.
Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative began in early 2008 as a way to make downtown Augusta more clean, safe and friendly. Through the Great Recession and into the slow economic recovery, property owners inside the Business Improvement District have been paying .00725 cents on every dollar of their property value to fund the $365,000-a-year program.
John Bodie, who owns a gas station and auto repair shop at the edge of the district in the 300 block of 13th Street, was originally opposed to the assessment.
Though Bodie has warmed to the idea of CADI, he still thinks there might be better ways to use the money.
“I would rather have put one or two more police officers on the downtown beat,” he said.
Over the past four years, Bodie said the CADI workers have helped his employees at Bodie’s Shell station take care of panhandlers by calling the police.
“They don’t really have any more authority than my employees, but they try to help,” he said. “I feel like their presence helps downtown.”
Bodie said he will go to any meetings about the BID renewal, and as long as his concerns are heard he sees no reason not to continue CADI.
“It may need to be tweaked some, but there are good points and bad points,” he said.
The district runs from the Savannah River to Greene Street and Sixth to 13th streets. There are 205 properties in the district.
The initiative was a hard sell the first time around. It took months of door-to-door canvassing and campaigning to get the 51 percent support of property owners necessary to bring it before the Augusta Commission for approval.
Because of the results of the past four years, it might be easier to renew, said Margaret Woodard, the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority of Augusta, which oversees the program.
“Now we can quantitate it all, and we can say this is what we’ve done,” she said.
In 2011, CADI removed more than 51 tons of trash, assisted more than 1,000 people, reported nearly 100 panhandlers, took down 240 fliers from public property and removed graffiti three times.
“It’s a well-oiled machine now,” Woodard said.
The DDA board is just beginning to plan the renewal campaign and will be sending out surveys to property owners in a few days to find out what they thought was a success and what could be improved.
The renewal is a chance to tweak goals and tactics based on property owners’ feedback.
David Steele, the owner of The Window Gallery at 1129 Broad St., said CADI services are worth the money he pays in each year, but there is room for improvement.
“I seem to see the fruits of their labor kind of sporadically,” he said. “More consistency would be good.”
Rick Toole is president of W.R. Toole Engineers Inc. at 1005 Broad St., and he said he’s also been pleased with CADI’s results. If anything gets in the way of approval, he said, it will be that people don’t recognize the crew’s work.
“There’s a risk that people aren’t fully realizing what all they’re doing,” he said. “But no news is good news, and people complain when things aren’t going well.”
Toole said he would like to see more emphasis on the friendliness aspect of the CADI mission.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to sell our downtown,” he said.
Paul King, the owner/broker at REX Property and Land LLC on 11th Street, was a member of the DDA board when CADI was formed. He said he was positive the CADI program would improve downtown. The past four years have proven him correct, he said, and to not renew the BID would be a mistake.
“I am thrilled by it, and it’s worth every penny we pay,” he said.
Before the program, King said downtown was littered with trash. Now, the team patrols the area and keeps the trash to a negligible amount. Like Toole, King fears that the program’s biggest enemy is property owners’ short memories.
“My biggest fear is that people don’t realize what they’re doing,” she said. “I’m very wary that people have forgotten what it was like before they were here.”
The new BID can be renewed for five or 10 years. In 2008, the board thought it would be easier to get a five-year program to begin with.
BID regulation is ordained by the state but requires approval from city authorities and support from 51 percent of total property owners or approval from property owners with control of at least 51 percent of downtown property value.
CADI has an annual $365,000 contract with Service Group Inc., a company that provides services to 26 U.S. cities’ BID areas.