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Inner-city initiative gets boost

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Monday's gridlock-busting vote by the Augusta Commission did more than guarantee construction of a new downtown trade center.

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Boarded up homes along Laney Walker Blvd  Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Boarded up homes along Laney Walker Blvd

It also delivered a $1 million shot in the arm to an effort to bring about transformation of the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods, two historically black areas suffering from decay and neglect.

The ambitious plan is expected to pump $37.5 million into the area over a half a century and spur nearly $100 million in economic development, most of that from the private sector.

In a deal worked out among commissioners in 2007, operations of the trade, exhibit and event center and the lifeline for the inner city were to be funded through a $1-a-night hotel fee, at the time projected to raise $1.1 million a year.

While details of the TEE center were still pending, by late 2008 enough bed fees had been collected to start work on Laney-Walker/Bethlehem, with consultants hired and the first properties assembled.

But an impasse arose along racial lines in May over the cost of the TEE center. During seven months of political haggling, funds for the inner-city initiative nearly dried up. Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler warned commissioners that work would soon screech to a halt, and this possibility was used as a bargaining tool for those who said that without a TEE center there could be no inner-city revitalization.

Without a guarantee that the exposition facility would be built, white commissioners refused to float a $7 million bond, or to allot $1 million, or even $150,000, to keep the projects going.

$1 million up front

A stipulation of Monday's vote will move $1 million into the revitalization effort, a short-term loan from the city's general fund to be paid back with an upcoming $8 million bond issuance. City Administrator Fred Russell said he expects the fund transfer to happen this week.

The money will set off a land grab, of sorts. Laney-Walker and Bethlehem Neighborhood Action Plan consultant Jesse Wiles, the president of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Asset Property Disposition Inc., said a "significant portion" of it will go toward closing on properties he has had under contract but lacked money to close.

In October, Mr. Wiles told commissioners he needed $1.6 million to complete sales on 103 parcels, and the sellers were losing interest. Of the $853,971 already spent on the project, $385,000 has been spent buying land and $403,233 has been paid to Mr. Wiles' company for project management services, land acquisition and construction drawings.

Mr. Wiles said Thursday that he'll be making acquisitions along Wrightsboro Road, James Brown Boulevard, and Holley, Florence and Twiggs streets. Prices will be set based on appraisals, backed up by review appraisals. Gaining control of vacant, abandoned and dilapidated properties is both the first step in the process and the key to spurring interest among homebuilders.

"Our major contribution to the deal is the land," said Mr. Wiles, whose company has done revitalization work in Jacksonville, Fla.; Atlanta; Savannah, Ga.; Baton Rouge, La.; and parts of New Orleans hit by Hurricane Katrina. "This is our starting point, if you will."

Model home ready

The program has already begun in earnest on Pine Street, off Laney-Walker Boulevard. A model home, built by C.B. Walker Contractors, was being painted and wired Friday. On two lots behind it, workers dug footings and set foundations for two more houses soon to be built by J&B Construction Services Inc.

A half-dozen houses on the street have been demolished, the lots covered in straw. Most of the remaining houses have deteriorated into uninhabitable shells. Early next year, construction of two more houses will start on lots owned by C.B. Walker. Eventually, 22 homes will be built on the street, Mr. Wiles said.

Pine Street is the genesis point for what's planned as a mushrooming of revitalization, spreading outward street by street and block by block, according to Cedric Johnson, the chairman of the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem plan implementation committee and a vice president of First Bank of Georgia.

The street was chosen because of its proximity to the old central business district of the black community and its proliferation of empty, unsalvageable homes on acquirable properties, he said.

An analysis of License and Inspection Department records by The Augusta Chronicle earlier this year found Bethlehem tied with Turpin Hill for the most city-instigated demolitions since 1998 (102 each) of all Augusta neighborhoods, with more money spent in Bethlehem ($394,151) than anywhere else. Laney-Walker ranked third with 66 demolitions at a cost of $267,592.

In a 2008 windshield survey by Asset Property Disposition of 873 buildings in Bethlehem, a quarter were deemed dilapidated and more than 70 percent were in poor to dilapidated condition. Of the 1,284 buildings surveyed in Laney-Walker, 60 percent were in good to fair condition, and more than one-third were poor to dilapidated. Both neighborhoods have average household incomes below the city average, according to market analysis service DemographicsNow, with Laney-Walker at $24,861 and Bethlehem at $19,902.

Incentives vital

Without incentives, Mr. Johnson said, developers and homebuyers would have no motivation to invest in such an area of town, and incentives are the key to jump-starting a turnaround. He said he envisions a day when houses there sell for $120,000 to $200,000.

"We can build all the houses in the world, but if we don't have the people to buy the homes, then we're just building houses," Mr. Johnson said.

According to Mr. Wiles, the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem funds will be used in several ways, administered through Housing and Community Development, to improve appearances and mitigate risk, including:

- Pairing developers with acquired properties to build both residences and commercial buildings (developers so far have been chosen through the Procurement Department).

- Working with lending institutions to help underwrite loans for development

- Down payment and payment assistance for homebuyers, along with education on obtaining credit and responsibilities of home ownership

- Streetscape improvements

- Helping homeowners who want to stay in the neighborhood rehab facades

- Helping landlords do the same, as long as they agree to continue renting to low- to moderate-income families

The goal is to eventually taper off the use of public funds, Mr. Wiles said.

"At some point," he said, "if you're good at what you're doing, the market forces take over."

One block at a time

While nonprofits such as Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp., Laney Walker Development Corp., 30901 Development Corp. and Antioch Development Corp. -- whose new houses on Holley Street are considered the model for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem initiative -- have been operating in the area for years, Mr. Johnson said, what's about to happen will be beyond anything they could have accomplished for a simple reason:

"It's funding," he said. "They don't have a lot to work with, and you're talking about nonprofits."

Calvin Walker, the owner of C.B. Walker Contractors, who has built houses for ANIC and 30901, said the difference will be in sheer volume.

"The new strategy going forward is to try to do it block by block, off the major corridors," he said.

On Friday at the Laney-Walker neighborhood's Eatery restaurant and Wholesome Convenience Store on 12th Street, residents said they're ready to see the community prosper.

"This area actually needs a lot of attention and improvements," said cook Janice Allen. "We have a whole lot of dilapidated houses that need to be torn down."

Said cashier Tony Jackson: "I think it would be a good project for the community, to create revenue in the inner-city area. Hopefully, it will clean up things down this way and bring more business to this area."

Staff writer Gracie Shepherd contributed to this article.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

COLLECTION, COSTS

Collections of the city's $1-a-night bed fee, which started in April 2008, total $1.7 million to date. Of that, $853,971 has been spent on the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem initiative. A breakdown of expenses:

$403,233: Paid to Asset Property Disposition Inc. for project management services, land acquisition and construction drawings

$385,000: Land acquisition costs

$53,050: Paid to RKG Associates for market studies

$10,403: Paid to Professional Services Inc. for environmental site assessments

$1,500: Appraisal services

$785: Miscellaneous fees

Source: Augusta Finance Department

Comments (26) Add comment
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samjoed13@hotmail.com
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samjoed13@hotmail.com 12/13/09 - 03:46 am
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This is a wonderful

This is a wonderful program--it is saving us $1500/month during the trial/waiting period! Amazing! Work with these guys http://bit.ly/849fAi

mike71345
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mike71345 12/13/09 - 04:13 am
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Weren't the "historic

Weren't the "historic regulations" implemented in Bethlehem supposed to save the place almost 20 years ago. It's good that Bethlehem was able to escape from them, though. How are those regulations working out in the other Augusta slum they have been imposed on?

thewiz0oz
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thewiz0oz 12/13/09 - 04:59 am
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Hopefully all this renovation

Hopefully all this renovation activity will take place under the guidelines that are part of the new Master Plan funded in part by the City & the private sector and under the Historic Preservation regulations -- this area is ideal for the mixed-use plans where low-income subsidized housing will be integrated with main stream housing -- we need to eliminate subsidized housing ghettos such as the Richmond Hotel and others -- other cities have proven that when responsible low-income individuals are given the opportunity to live in good middle & upper residential areas they take better care of their homes than the others -- good covenants that are enforced along with an active neighborhood association makes a big difference in long-term outcomes.

JohnTaurus
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JohnTaurus 12/13/09 - 07:57 am
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Aw. yes!! A classic act of

Aw. yes!! A classic act of redistribution of the wealth. This allows those of the lowest mental capacity to reproduce at numbers they would never acheive on their own, which will result in more people of low IQ for the deminishing higher IQ's to support. Take from those who earn and give it to those who do not. Suppose a teacher averaged out the grades of students so everyone would have the same grade. Those with F's would be happy because they now have a C or B. Those who are used to making A's and studied would not be happy with a C. Those who studied would soon stop studying. Why work when the grades are free??? Soon, every student will be failing because the averages will drop like a stone. That is why communism won't work. That is why redistribution of wealth will result in total collapse of our economic system. Wha'??? It has already collapsed???? Ding, dang, dooley!!!!

JohnQPublic
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JohnQPublic 12/13/09 - 08:28 am
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I wouldn't mind renting to

I wouldn't mind renting to low income families if they would take care of my property instead of destroying it!

Runner46
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Runner46 12/13/09 - 08:46 am
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Now, all we need is a couple

Now, all we need is a couple of secured parking structures and I might be able to enjoy a day in downtown Augusta.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/13/09 - 09:03 am
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Bribe washing article this

Bribe washing article this morning.

apex24
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apex24 12/13/09 - 10:13 am
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How long will it take to be

How long will it take to be torn up and drug infested. I hope it doesn't but previous history shows it will. Then what, another million for revitalization of the revitalization.

deekster
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deekster 12/13/09 - 10:31 am
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What segment of the Disgusta

What segment of the Disgusta community would want to pay $120000 to live in a ghetto? Oh, someone who is given the property. Same old, same old. We tore down the slums in the 40's and build "public housing". Now we are tearing down public housing to build predestined slums. I'll bet local politicians have something to do with this constant "building and tearing down" and the MONEY generated by same. We the "sheeple" are an ignorant lot. And we propose to tell the rest of the world how to run a government. Give me a break. Maybe the Muslims are right. Maybe our government is SATAN. The biblical "beast" is a "world government feeding of of its subjugates..

JohnTaurus
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JohnTaurus 12/13/09 - 10:31 am
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Ssssssh!!!! You can't say

Ssssssh!!!! You can't say things like that. You will be banned. Truth is no longer a virtue. It is like a diseased whore showing up at a church function. There are no elephants in the room. There are no elephants in the room.

johnrawllins
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johnrawllins 12/13/09 - 10:46 am
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Somebody is dreaming!!!!

Somebody is dreaming!!!!

johnrawllins
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johnrawllins 12/13/09 - 10:47 am
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The above pictue says it all.

The above pictue says it all. The house on the left was "revitalized" 10 years ago!

butler123
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butler123 12/13/09 - 11:02 am
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You can turn a sow's ear into

You can turn a sow's ear into a silk purse after all, but who is going to walk around in a pig pen with a silk purse?

georgiasouthern
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georgiasouthern 12/13/09 - 11:56 am
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Thanks to Obama.

Thanks to Obama.

scorehouse
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scorehouse 12/13/09 - 12:18 pm
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this sux. more money has been
Unpublished

this sux. more money has been paid for "consulting bs" than land acquisition. these projects are bottomless money pits. might as well spend the money coating sewer pipes with gold. will have the same economic impact. don't you just love it when these pavlov dog reporters march lockstep with these con artists and "report" the party line. " this will bring 100 million in economic development" is not only insulting it's a lie. why not give everyone in the area 100,000 dollars and be done with it?

corgimom
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corgimom 12/13/09 - 12:42 pm
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"He said he envisions a day

"He said he envisions a day when houses there sell for $120,000 to $200,000." That's right, we all know that everybody loves to buy homes in crime-infested, blighted, crack neighborhoods where getting shot is always a fun and exciting possibility. Y'all, don't trample anybody in the stampede to buy one of these homes. And for an added bonus, the nearest grocery store is Kroger- their motto is "where the thugs shop"

crackerjack
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crackerjack 12/13/09 - 01:00 pm
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One of the biggest problems

One of the biggest problems they face is how do you get someone moved in after it's built, before the copper wiring and appliances are stolen to buy drugs. And did they take bids on a large quantity of basketball goals?

scorehouse
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scorehouse 12/13/09 - 01:57 pm
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the house will sell for at
Unpublished

the house will sell for at least 200k some day not too far in the future. the county will buy the land for a new 'CRIMINAL JUSTICE COMPLEX", for those of you in harlem, that's a jail.

scorehouse
196
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scorehouse 12/13/09 - 02:10 pm
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if the voters have to approve
Unpublished

if the voters have to approve the building of a new jail, it will be called the "ACORN REHABILITATION AND VOTER REGISTRATION CENTER" in part funded by obama's BAIL out money.

BAIL

Asitisinaug
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Asitisinaug 12/13/09 - 02:14 pm
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So in order to do what will

So in order to do what will really help the city you have to pacify others by wasting millions.....Govenment inaction....

scorehouse
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scorehouse 12/13/09 - 02:18 pm
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wrong. this is the perfect
Unpublished

wrong. this is the perfect example of government in action. stealing your money in the form of taxes, fees, tolls, permits, etc. to redistribute as they see fit. this is government in action not inaction. you just forgot the space.

jaschild
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jaschild 12/13/09 - 02:34 pm
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is anyone actually reading

is anyone actually reading this article? the wealth is being redistributed....to the wealthy! most or all of this money is being given directly to large companies who will acquire the land and then low-bid to contractors so that shoddy housing will replace the decrepit housing already there. as far as money going to "needy" (whoever they are), not a dime will find it's way into the pockets of "the poor." i have no problem with revitalization as long as it includes bringing more education & jobs to the area; just bulldozing & erecting new substandard homes isn't going to solve any problems.

bentman
455
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bentman 12/13/09 - 02:40 pm
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Go ahead and build some nice

Go ahead and build some nice buildings over there. That crowd will do nothing but tear things up in no time. just look at new restaurants in that neighborhood. They start looking like a trash heap in no time.

wildman
1121
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wildman 12/13/09 - 03:06 pm
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None, not one of these free

None, not one of these free loaders will say thank you to the hard working tax paying citizens that struggle every day to pay our bills and send our kids to college. In less than 5 years we will have to rebuild or fix the damage caused by those that enjoy the benefits of the money taken from us by the governement(s).

dani
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dani 12/13/09 - 04:58 pm
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Someone please make "after"

Someone please make "after" photos of the homes upon completion. I hope that we see them a year later with nice. clean, well-landscaped yards and all windows intact.

johnrawllins
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johnrawllins 12/13/09 - 05:21 pm
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If you are an entitlement

If you are an entitlement person from cradle to grave, you have no pride in what is given you. I also hope someone will take pictures upon completion of these homes and get back with us with new photos in 5 years. Chronicle, ae you up to the task?

corgimom
32616
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corgimom 12/13/09 - 05:27 pm
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Mainstream people are not

Mainstream people are not going to want to send their children to the terrible schools that the area is zoned for. Their kids won't even be able to go out and play, it's so bad down there. Who in their right mind would buy a house there? And who in their right mind VOLUNTARILY buys a house that's mixed in with Section 8 housing? You don't notice Oz doing that, do you?

jack
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jack 12/13/09 - 05:43 pm
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A prime example of wealth

A prime example of wealth distribution and waste BimbObama syle. You can "revitalize" all you want, but the same thing will happen all over again and have to be "revitalized" again and again and again. This is indeed tryig to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear where the tax payer is forced to support the indolent..

johnrollins
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johnrollins 12/13/09 - 09:52 pm
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Build it, they will

Build it, they will come------------------and destroy it!

FedupwithAUG
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FedupwithAUG 12/13/09 - 10:41 pm
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Asset Property Disposition

Asset Property Disposition Inc. is the one making out on this deal. No doubt they hope white people move in and change the hood.

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