City reveals proposed sources of funds for cyber parking deck project

Augusta officials have revealed the mix of funding sources they hope to use to cover interest-only payments for about seven years on a new parking garage to support the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center.

 

The estimated 500-space parking deck wasn’t part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s January announcement about the $50 million center being fast-tracked for construction on Augusta’s riverfront, but soon city officials acknowledged their commitment to paying for a deck to serve the center.

At a Wednesday news conference, City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson and Mayor Hardie Davis emphasized the city’s role in providing only financing and design assistance – with a request to involve local small businesses – in what will be a state construction project. Groundbreaking is set for June.

“This is a state-led project,” Davis said, “a state construction project,” and “ultimately (will be) a state-owned facility.”

Jackson said after considering several options, a $12 million bond issue on which the city will make only $500,000 annual interest payments for the first seven or eight years – before refinancing or using future sales tax dollars to pay the debt in full – would keep the city’s credit rating strong and payments affordable.

While all details are subject to change, the city can cover the payments with an expected “low end” projection of $100,000 in revenue from operating the deck; $150,000 from Transportation Investment Act discretionary funds; $125,000 from mixed-drink taxes that currently go to the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau and $125,000 from the city’s general fund.

The Augusta Chronicle has requested documents associated with the deck project; city General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said in a brief email Wednesday nearly all are exempt from disclosure under the Georgia Open Meetings Act as involving real estate appraisals, engineering or feasibility estimates or real estate acquisition. Others are exempt as attorney work produced by outside counsel Jim Plunkett, , MacKenzie said by telephone.

A summary handed out at the news conference has the city Urban Redevelopment Agency as conduit for the bond issue, with the target area to require designation as blighted and subject to a redevelopment plan. It says the CVB’s lost mixed-drink revenue can be made up by changing a local definition of short-term lodging from 10 days to 30 , creating up to $250,000 in new hotel-motel taxes.

Issuing more debt won’t impact the city’s credit rating, and city financial advisor Davenport and Co. has said Augusta can issue up to $181 million without concern, the summary said.

The URA will need to obtain title to the state-owned land until the bonds are paid in a deal Davis said will be “transparent” and lack the controversy associated with the city’s construction five years ago of the privately-managed public parking deck that serves Augusta Convention Center, formerly known as the TEE Center.

“This will not be TEE Center 2.0,” Davis said.

Many other decisions have to be made including details such as who will run the facility and how much it will cost to park there. The summary estimated renting 125 spaces at $65 per month to cyber center faculty and tenants, generating $97,500 annually, with the city potentially contracting with Augusta University or a private firm to run the deck.

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

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