A request to spend $183,000 to prune trees along Riverwalk Augusta got a thumbs-down Thursday from a Downtown Development Authority committee.
The authority’s Design Committee met to discuss the request from the city Parks, Recreation and Facilities department to allocate $183,000 in special purpose local option sales tax revenue.
Authority Chairman Cameron Nixon and Vice Chairman Scylance Scott Jr., the only members of the seven-person authority in attendance, both recommended rejecting the proposal, but the final say will come when the full panel casts its vote at an upcoming meeting.
The request derives from a city improvement plan to address safety and aesthetic enhancements, which came about this year after the May 3 assault of a South Carolina couple who were on a bench near the former Fort Discovery building on the riverwalk.
The plan called for various improvement projects to fix broken lighting, beef up police activity, and remove trees and limbs on 300 trees, but much of the work remained undone by early September.
Augusta Parks, Recreations and Facilities Director Bob Levine, who wasn’t at Thursday’s meeting, has asked the authority for funding help with the tree maintenance portion of the plan.
Scott said board attorney Byrd Warlick advised him that the authority’s sales tax funding should be used for capital improvement projects, leaving Scott unsure if “tree pruning” qualifies in that category.
“In talking with our attorney, he’s saying that it’s a slippery slope,” said Scott, who leads the design committee. “I think to honor this request for pruning trees would put us in harm’s way. That’s my personal opinion.”
Advocating for the riverwalk’s beautification, Scott and Nixon said the authority’s focus should instead be on a large-scale project.
“That way we don’t have a Band-Aid approach,” Scott said.
Of the $1.2 million in current local option sales tax funding designated to the authority, the two members suggested earmarking $1 million for the riverfront property.
“We want to improve riverwalk, and we’re in the process of determining what’s the best way to do that,” Nixon said.
The authority’s executive director, Margaret Woodard, named a former playground that now sits empty near Sixth Street as a potential area of the riverwalk that could be improved.
“I think this allows us an opportunity to really do something big that’s going to attract visitors and is going to be a great place for the people who live downtown,” she said.
One of the authority’s most recent Riverwalk Augusta projects included building a permanent $55,000 stage in 2011 for performances between Eighth and Ninth streets.
Construction of the riverwalk began in 1986, and it took a decade to complete.