An Augusta Commission subcommittee Monday gave unanimous support to hiring an employee to spearhead commercial and retail development in areas considered “underserved,” such as those south of Gordon Highway.
The subcommittee, made up of six Augusta commissioners, the mayor, two state legislators, Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick and Downtown Development Authority Director Margaret Woodard voted unanimously to approve a memorandum of understanding with the Augusta Development Authority to create the position. Subcommittee members state Rep. Wayne Howard and Mayor Hardie Davis did not attend.
The employee will be hired by the Augusta Development Authority but paid using public funds, unlike other development authority employees whose focus has typically been on industrial projects. The memorandum specifies the staffer will report to an oversight committee of three commissioners and three authority members, and receive guidance from a commission-appointed technical advisory group comprised of departmental and industry leaders.
His or her focus will be “to promote and support retail and commercial development in Augusta, to include historically under-served areas of the city,” the agreement states.
That means collecting good data – south Augustans tend to under-report their actual incomes – and using it to target desired retail, such as an Applebee’s or a Rhinehart’s, said Commissioner Sammie Sias, who chairs the subcommittee.
Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle and Sean Frantom questioned the addition, asking if private firms such as Retail Strategies or Georgia Power-sponsored NextSite360, whom Davis brought before the commission in July, had been considered for the task.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel; that’s what they do for a living,” Guilfoyle said.
Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, said a survey of larger Georgia governments revealed most have several development entities focusing on their economies, while “we don’t have a coordinating arm” for retail and commercial in Augusta. “Not to cut out anything,” Jones said, “but to bring all these different tools to the table.”
Kendrick said the effort grew out of his and Sias’ 2008 push to spur retail development outside downtown Augusta and earlier subcommittee discussions in which members disagreed with creating an additional development authority.
“You’ve got an area of town, south of Gordon Highway, that’s probably ripe for some good old-fashioned salesmanship,” Kendrick said.
While any interested businesses can contact Woodard regarding downtown parking, for example, “there is nobody to call about parking on Tobacco Road,” he said.
Sias said the staffer’s efforts will target all areas except those covered by the Downtown Development Authority.
“No part of Augusta is out, except we’re not going to interfere with Margaret,” he said.
Davis’ #SOGO initiative, short for south of Gordon Highway, appears similar. He has made relocating Augusta’s civic center, the James Brown Arena, to the abandoned Regency Mall site the centerpiece of an effort to jump-start the south Augusta economy. A Davis staffer said he was out sick Monday.
Frantom said after the meeting residents should expect to see “a united front on the commission to support growth in south Augusta and all underserved areas,” and that he wanted to see the city use “all the tools in the toolbox.”
The agreement, set to run through June 1, 2022, now faces commission approval.
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.