Is downtown Augusta a “slum?”
For the purpose of borrowing money to help fund some of the $40 million in renovations at Augusta Municipal Building, yes it is.
Going for approval Monday by a city committee is the official designation as a “slum area” of 594 downtown acres, bounded roughly by 15th and Reynolds streets, Gordon Highway and Walton Way.
The slum, according to a resolution designating downtown as an “Urban Redevelopment Area,” is fraught with dilapidation, deterioration, vacancy and obsolescence to the point of creating health hazards, encouraging crime and delinquency and increasing infant mortality. It also suffers from isolation – brought on by noise, the riverfront levee, rail lines that bisect historic districts and busy thoroughfares that create “psychological barriers” to growth and expansion, according to the resolution.
Despite some downtown detractors’ long-held assertions now nearly official, District 1 Commissioner Bill Fennoy disagreed. The area, which also includes the new Augusta Convention Center and a handful of incoming restaurants and bars, hasn’t sunk to that level.
“I wouldn’t describe it as a slum,” Fennoy said.
Made possible under Georgia’s Urban Redevelopment Law, governments can create Urban Redevelopment Areas in which – based on “slum” conditions – they have enhanced powers, including the issue of tax-exempt bonds not subject to statutory limits. In fact, a $26.5 million issue of revenue bonds is part of the slum designation package up for committee approval on Monday.
The $40.5 million Municipal Building renovations, part of the development area’s Urban Redevelopment Plan, are also a part of the package going for approval Monday. The renovations are to be paid using $8.9 million from SPLOST 6, $5.7 million from SPLOST 6-backed bonds issued in 2010 plus $26.5 million in new city-guaranteed bonds to be callable and repaid from SPLOST 7, although the next 1 percent sales tax won’t go before voters until next year.
The designation, which was similarly overlaid on the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem revitalization project, also gives a government increased powers to buy and sell properties for redevelopment, while waiving zoning and other requirements.