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Russell to re-examine downtown Augusta parking deck deal

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Management of the city’s new downtown parking garage remains undecided, with Augusta Commission members on Monday sending City Administrator Fred Russell back to renegotiate a deal he previously said was the best he could do.

Emerging after nearly an hour behind closed doors with General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie and special counsel Jim Plunkett, who has handled most legal details associated with the new Trade, Exhibit and Event Center, the commission’s Finance Committee voted 4-0 to have Russell “come back with a new proposal.”

Russell’s first proposal, in which Augusta pays TEE Center operator Augusta Riverfront LLC an annual management fee of $25,000 to operate the nearby deck, while reserving its ground floor spaces during business hours for landowner 933 Broad Investment Co. LLC, raised questions with several commissioners that persisted Monday.

“It appears that we are giving away the taxpayers’ money,” Commissioner Bill Lockett said.

Lockett said after Monday’s vote he remained particularly troubled by the fact that he made a Aug. 9, 2010, motion to acquire land he thought was for the deck.

“General counsel did not properly explain what he was anticipating the commission voting on,” he said.

After a called legal meeting Aug. 9, 2010, the commission approved 9-0 a motion read by MacKenzie to buy the former WAGT-TV property for $205,000, purchase for $119,500 and swap property at the corner of 13th and Reynolds streets for a tract at Ninth and Reynolds streets and pay $32,000 to end a lease with the operator of Reggie’s Hot Dog Stand.

Typically when the commission authorizes a purchase of real estate, Augusta’s mayor signs off on a resolution describing and authorizing the purchase, but no resolution could be located Monday by City Clerk Lena Bonner or Plunkett, who said he’d search for one among reams of documents associated with the TEE development.

The day’s swap and purchases ultimately contributed only 0.07 acre to city-owned real estate beneath the now-completed deck. Most commissioners were surprised to learn when the management agreement was first presented in September that the city only owns the deck’s upper floors.

While they’d been told by Russell the land under the deck would be donated, the arrangement was developed as a way to ensure no more than 10 percent of the publicly financed construction project went to private use, according to Plunkett.

Russell said Monday he takes the blame for whatever misunderstandings or errors occurred, that he’d go back to work on the deal, and that the deck’s “top floors are going to be ours in perpetuity,” while its ground floor would remain the property of 933 Broad Investment Co.

Paul Simon, the president of Augusta Riverfront and 933 Broad Investment, who attended Monday committee meetings, said he was surprised by the decision to revisit the proposal. “We’ll just have to look and see what they come back with,” he said.

Commissioner Matt Aitken said the motion passed because a majority of the commission felt like the current proposal benefits only the TEE Center and “wasn’t inclusive” to downtown events such as the ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta and Arts in the Heart of Augusta Festival.

Aitken said he hoped the new agreement more closely resembled the proposal by Ampco System Parking, the bidder selected when the city put management of the deck out for bid.

Commissioner Corey Johnson said the first proposal wasn’t in the city’s best interest. “Anything is negotiable,” he said. “I know we can get a better deal.”

Commissioner Jerry Brigham said he wasn’t sure. “I don’t know if it’s going to be any better the second time around,” he said.

IN OTHER ACTION

The Augusta Commission’s Finance Committee and the Planning Commission authorized four actions Monday intended to secure an unnamed chemical manufacturer to a privately held 179-acre tract located at Doug Barnard Parkway and Dixon Airline Road.

The Planning Commission OK’d special exceptions to the heavy industry designation to permit chemical manufacturing, while the Finance Committee authorized the city’s third Tax Allocation District at the site. The district will allow the city to reimburse the manufacturer for infrastructure improvements with increments of rising property taxes resulting from the development.

Walter Sprouse, the director of the Development Authority of Richmond County, has said Augusta is one of six Southeastern cities vying for the plant.

According to the TAD redevelopment plan approved by the committee, the development will spur $115 million in investment and create 80-100 jobs.

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Riverman1
83907
Points
Riverman1 11/08/11 - 06:38 am
0
0
Bondholders believe something

Bondholders believe something is amiss when more than 10 percent of a loan goes to private interests. A rhetorical, wonder why? It appears the TEE proponents found a way to get around that issue.

Paul Simon in his puppet like way doesn't appear ready to right this wrong. I suppose those who push for a worthless $55 million building like the TEE want to get their share of the booty.

Brad Owens
4429
Points
Brad Owens 11/08/11 - 07:25 am
0
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Well, where do I begin on

Well, where do I begin on this one, first this is a win for the people against the CABAL for sure, but is it a REAL win? That is the question.

In my not so humble opinion, it should either be rebid or thaey should take the bids accepted and use the best one for this deal.

“It appears that we are giving away the taxpayers’ money,” Commissioner Bill Lockett said. (NO sir, it really IS giving it away..)

"Typically when the commission authorizes a purchase of real estate, Augusta’s mayor signs off on a resolution describing and authorizing the purchase, but no resolution could be located Monday by City Clerk Lena Bonner or Plunkett.." (SO, does that mean this was or was not leagl without the CEO's signature, also, does that give Copenhaver an out on the scandal? What did Deke know, and when did he know it?)

"the arrangement was developed as a way to ensure no more than 10 percent of the publicly financed construction project went to private use" (What % of the parking deck does the entire first floor represent?)

"Commissioner Matt Aitken said the motion passed because a majority of the commission felt like the current proposal benefits only the TEE Center and “wasn’t inclusive” to downtown....he said he hoped the new agreement more closely resembled the proposal by Ampco System Parking, the bidder selected when the city put management of the deck out for bid." (IF the Ampco bid is better, why not just pay fair pmarket value for the land, make it 100% county owned and vote to hire Ampco? Is this rocket science here?)

We citizens who care need to keep the pressure on because this TEE ParkinGate scandal id just the tip of the iceberg on this TEE deal.

These meetings with 933 Broad/Riverfront LLC should be 100% announced and held in the commission chambers with the public being able to see them.

I mean the cat is out of the bag, and if they use the age old "it deals with potential land purchases" excuse to go closed door, they need to understand that we know already. So we can't let them do this out of the sunshine.

NO back room deals, private meetings and "quiiet negotiations" here. We must DEMAND open meetings on these renegotiations. Anyone volunteer to attend and record them?

This is getting good, and I am sure even the commissioners who support the CABAL are now seeing the need to take the tax payers side here. It is about time huh?

Brad

Little Lamb
46021
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Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 08:50 am
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0
Susan McCord

Susan McCord reported:

Emerging after nearly an hour behind closed doors with General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie and special counsel Jim Plunkett . . . the commission’s Finance Committee voted 4-0 to have Russell “come back with a new proposal.”

Hey guys, the clock is ticking. I think I read a few days ago that we are in a 60-day extension period on the current parking deck management deal. Now you have told the notoriously lackadaisical Fred Russell to go away for a spell and then come back with a new proposal for Paul Simon.

Well, do you remember that you also told Russell to go away and then come back with some proposals for creative financing of a downtown ballpark? Which one do you want him to finish first? You've got to tell him or he will twiddle his thumbs.

The commissioners are in a no-win situation as long as Russell is on the job. The commissioners have stated publicly that they do not trust Russell, yet they are totally dependent on him and on his advice. That is a bad position to be in.

Little Lamb
46021
Points
Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 08:54 am
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Susan McCord reported: After

Susan McCord reported:

After a called legal meeting Aug. 9, 2010, the commission approved 9-0 a motion read by MacKenzie to buy the former WAGT-TV property for $205,000.

Wow! I totally missed that. I knew the property was up for sale, but I assumed a private entity would want it. Now the city owns it and it's off the tax rolls. I guess it's just a gift to WAGT for being such a good corporate citizen all these years.

Or maybe it's part of Russell's creative financing plan to have taxpayers build a ballpark on Reynolds Street.

Riverman1
83907
Points
Riverman1 11/08/11 - 09:05 am
0
0
LL, that is interesting. I

LL, that is interesting. I thought it was said a private buyer had bought that property. They keep saying someone is finalizing buying Ft. Discovery, too. Anyone know about that?

Little Lamb
46021
Points
Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 09:12 am
0
0
I guess if someone buys Ft.

I guess if someone buys Ft. Discovery that they are merely buying "air space," kind of like the new Marriott parking deck. Is that correct?

Riverman1
83907
Points
Riverman1 11/08/11 - 09:15 am
0
0
A certain commissioner said

A certain commissioner said over two years ago that sale of Ft. Discovery to a private concern was imminent. It's about as imminent as sale of Regency Mall.

Riverman1
83907
Points
Riverman1 11/08/11 - 09:31 am
0
0
I still like Brad Mean's

I still like Brad Mean's question to Mayor Copenhaver-Boardman that made him get testy and remark that people look at past minutes of meetings and don't look forward.

"Have you gone to the owner of the parking deck land and asked him to fix this problem?"

Little Lamb
46021
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Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 09:36 am
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Did Brad Means ask that

Did Brad Means ask that question on his Sunday afternoon TV show? It's a proper question, but it seems it was asked of the wrong person. The mayor has nothing to do with fixing problems. He is the ribbon cutter extraordinaire.

Unfortunately, the one who is supposed to fix problems is the one who doesn't worry.

Willow Bailey
20580
Points
Willow Bailey 11/08/11 - 09:53 am
0
0
How do you negotiate after

How do you negotiate after the fact? The City has no leverage. They built their house on another man's land. Great real estate lesson, transfer the air rights and keep the land.

Many Arrows
-1
Points
Many Arrows 11/08/11 - 10:04 am
0
0
How many deckings does it

How many deckings does it take for the abused citizenry to look for a 'Lorena Bobbit ' solution?

Little Lamb
46021
Points
Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 10:21 am
0
0
In the private world you

In the private world you would be correct, Willow. The side with only air rights would have no leverage over the side with the real estate. But in Georgia there is a thing called eminent domain. The government has the ability to take the real estate for a needed government function by giving them a fair price for their real estate. That is the only leverage the city has, but it is a very big lever.

The city should negotiate from a position of strength with the following offer: "Riverfront LLC, either take our offer of more favorable terms for the city, or we will take the land under eminent domain, operate the deck ourselves, and send all revenue to the city's general fund."

Little Lamb
46021
Points
Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 10:30 am
0
0
Right now, the appraised

Right now, the appraised value of the parking deck property is peanuts, giving the owner a ridiculously low property tax bill. Another lever the city could use would be to re-assess the parking deck real estate (and all the real estate on Reynolds St.) to a higher value to collect serious tax money.

The city's offer could be, "Grant us more favorable terms on the parking lot deal, or we will raise the value of your real estate along with everyone else's on Reynolds St. to be fair."

Little Lamb
46021
Points
Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 10:32 am
0
0
Was the Downtown Development

Was the Downtown Development Authority involved in setting up the bonds for the parking deck construction?

Willow Bailey
20580
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Willow Bailey 11/08/11 - 10:34 am
0
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LL, I forgot! The old ED

LL, I forgot! The old ED rule. That should work if they have the xxxx's to enforce it. I prefer the plan of

"...will take the land under eminent domain, operate the deck ourselves, and send all revenue to the city's general fund."

Of course, their lawyers will say there was already an agreeement in place.

Any chance of getting you to apply for Russell's job? We would get this place cleaned up with you in charge.

Riverman1
83907
Points
Riverman1 11/08/11 - 10:37 am
0
0
We are all tap dancing around

We are all tap dancing around the major issue. Susan McCord didn't comment on the ownership link between the Marriott, both LLC's, the parking deck land and the business that will use the parking places they are demanding. Does anyone not agree?

Willow Bailey
20580
Points
Willow Bailey 11/08/11 - 10:45 am
0
0
A little fear in naming

A little fear in naming names, I would imagine. River. Personally, I would like to hear their side of the issue. It would probably be enlightening to say the least.

Little Lamb
46021
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Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 10:47 am
0
0
For discussion's sake, let's

For discussion's sake, let's just refer to the LLC operating the deck as Parking Deck Operator (PDO):

Willow Bailey mentioned that under the upcoming negotiations, PDO's lawyers will object because there is already an agreement in place. That's standard procedure.

But I was under the impression that the agreement either has expired or is about to expire. In a previous Susan McCord article I thought I read that the commission extended the current agreement with PDO for sixty days to allow Fred to go negotiate a better deal or to accept one of the offers from a competing company to operate the deck. I'll go do a search and report back the results.

Riverman1
83907
Points
Riverman1 11/08/11 - 10:53 am
0
0
Willow, exactly. Let HIM sit

Willow, exactly. Let HIM sit down with one of their writers and explain in detail. That may make many of us feel much better about all this. He can also comment on Brad Mean's suggestion that he simply right this wrong. We have not heard HIS side. I've always been told bringing things out in the open is the best way to alleviate criticism.

Willow Bailey
20580
Points
Willow Bailey 11/08/11 - 10:55 am
0
0
I agree River. Bring it into

I agree River. Bring it into the light and let it be examined. If it's right, good, and if not, it will be an opportunity to correct it. We gave up stoning, well, mostly.

Little Lamb
46021
Points
Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 10:55 am
0
0
Here it is. On Halloween,

Here it is. On Halloween, Susan McCord reported:

It could be another 60 days before a permanent management plan is in effect at Augusta’s new Trade, Exhibition and Event Center parking deck. A 60-day extension of the current parking arrangement is on the agenda for Tuesday’s 5 p.m. meeting of the Augusta Commission, while a commission committee referred details of a draft agreement with operator Augusta Riverfront LLC to next week’s finance committee meeting.

Here is the link to Ms. McCord's Chronicle article.

Brad Owens
4429
Points
Brad Owens 11/08/11 - 11:18 am
0
0
LL, They cannot use "eminent

LL,

They cannot use "eminent domain" for a public/privte (mostly private) parking deck, Georgia law prevents it.

After the US Supreme Court's notorious Kelo decision, the Georgia legislature created an act to limit the definition of the "public benefit" that justifies taking by eminent domain.

"The Act specifically defines "public use" as;

(1) literal possession by the general public or government entities;
(2) use for public utilities;
(3) use for roads and channels;
(4) acquisitions in instance of clouded title;
(5) friendly condemnations; and
(6) takings of "blighted" property.

The legislation specifically excludes economic development from the definition of public use. As has been the case in many states, the restrictions on public use have a loophole in the "blight" exception.

Blight is to be determined on a property-by-property basis. The only specific direction in the Act is that the subject property must be "urban" and must also meet certain conditions, such as abandonment, environmental contamination or illegal activity on the property.

So as you can see, the city is in a very difficult position. Add to that the fact that the land they DID buy was at greatly inflated values, came out to about $2,000,000.00 per acre.

This is not going to go our way,

Brad

Little Lamb
46021
Points
Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 11:26 am
0
0
Brad, of course they cannot

Brad, of course they cannot use eminent domain for a private/public project. But eminent domain by definition means taking property for a government project. When the property owner is paid for the real estate, the entire parking deck will be government owned. It should then be government operated, with proceeds going to the government. What I am advocating meets definition number 1 in your list above.

There are plenty of government-owned parking decks all around the country. Many of the parcels were obtained by eminent domain.

Of course, in those other decks, the government obtained the land before building the deck. But Augusta is just a little backward sometimes.

Little Lamb
46021
Points
Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 11:47 am
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0
Regarding that $119,000

Regarding that $119,000 purchase of the 13th St. property for the Bill Jackson land swap, Susan McCord wrote:

Commissioner Lockett said after Monday’s vote he remained particularly troubled by the fact that he made a Aug. 9, 2010, motion to acquire land he thought was for the deck. “General counsel did not properly explain what he was anticipating the commission voting on,” he said.

Okay, we've seen Grady Smith make a mistake in his voting and ask for a re-vote. And we've seen Corey Johnson make a mistake in his voting and ask for a re-vote. Now we've got Bill Lockett admit he made a mistake in his voting (at least he's not asking for a do-over). We also had a meeting where Deke Copenhaver was trying to put pressure on Matt Aitken to stop gumming up the works on the baseball park. Oh, yes, let's not forget Fred Russell's convincing speech where he told commissioners that the LLC that owns the deck real estate was going to donate it to the city. Several commissioners fell for that one.

Our commissioners need to get a handle on the fact that the city administrator, the city attorney, and the mayor are engaging in tactics designed to confuse commissioners, and the tactics are succeeding. Commissioners need to get a grip and slow down the proceedings until they truly understand what they are voting on. The "explanations" given by the orchestrators end up biting us taxpayers much of the time.

Brad Owens
4429
Points
Brad Owens 11/08/11 - 12:19 pm
0
0
LL, I don't think Bill made a

LL,

I don't think Bill made a mistake, I think that they were told they were buying the land for the parking deck and that the rest would be donated. I mean that is exactly what the minutes show.

The deal was changed AFTER the vote and never brought back for a vote.

Also, you are right that they cannot use eminent domain unless we take the whole parcel, but that is my point, you cannot use it for a parking deck unless it is 100% public. So if Fred is going to make ANY deal with 933 broad/Riverfront Dev/Morris for any part to be given to them, it will mean we cannot use eminent domain .

I think we should use eminent domain, pay them the fair market value before Bill's sweetheart deal, and put it out for bid to manage it for the city. Also, the DDA should be the ones servicing the bonds.

Brad

IsAnyoneAlwaysRight
40
Points
IsAnyoneAlwaysRight 11/08/11 - 12:45 pm
0
0
The city never purchased the

The city never purchased the land which was owned by the partnership which was contractually obligated to provide parking for the ML building, etc. Neither was it donated. The city basically was given as a gift, the air rights above the 150 parking places. What's with the Government greed and eminent domain stuff. Let the city take your house; see what you would think.

Plus, some of the private parties gave up use or interests in existing facilities for the TEE center to be built. Also, what good is a Tee Center without a place for visiting business folks to have a room to spend the night end. Do yall want the City of Augusta to run and own everything? Geeze, they can't handle their own mess.

Little Lamb
46021
Points
Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 01:28 pm
0
0
To add to Brad's post and

To add to Brad's post and Anyone's post, we need to remember Judge Overstreet's recent ruling that large purchases of materials or services must be put out for bid and must go to the lowest bidder who meets the specifications of the bid. He said it was a matter of obeying state law. Here on this parking deck management agreement we see that Fred just assumed that everyone would want Riverfront LLC and there either was no competitive bid process or others' bids were never opened because the deal with Riverfront was a fait accompli.

It's time to have an honest bid specification and take the lowest one. This notion in Susan's article above that Fred just needs to go talk to Paul again and get some concessions is not acting in good faith with Overstreet's ruling.

Little Lamb
46021
Points
Little Lamb 11/08/11 - 01:36 pm
0
0
IsAnyoneAlwaysRight wrote: .

IsAnyoneAlwaysRight wrote:

. . . the land which was owned by the partnership which was contractually obligated to provide parking for the ML building. . . .

What is the ML building? What or who is the partnership that is contractually obligated?

Riverman1
83907
Points
Riverman1 11/08/11 - 02:22 pm
0
0
Merrill Lynch Building...933

Merrill Lynch Building...933 Broad St.

Riverman1
83907
Points
Riverman1 11/08/11 - 03:26 pm
0
0
I've criticised public

I've criticised public figures in the past and I realize events that occur are not always intentional on their part. For instance, I bring up Deke's shortcomings all the time, but I know for a fact his heart is in the right place.

I've told the story that before he became mayor he went out of his way to call me up when I had written something in another publication about the effect some developers were having on the environment. He wanted to know how he could help. Keep in mind, those opposed to the developers were not getting anything out of it. This was a thankless task and he was willing to sign on.

I believe he gets involved in matters like the TEE and stadium working from the point of view that Augusta needs this and that. Of course those around him carefully give him input and that's sometimes where the problems come in.

So why am I bringing this up here?

I look at Mr. Morris in much the same way. I know he's done lots of good for Augusta. He loves the city. I can't begin to list the millions of dollars he put into Augusta.

He honestly believed the TEE would help downtown and saw nothing wrong with the parking deal that allowed his concern to keep the land. But it's time for him to be asked about the LLC's, Simon and the agreement where they kept the ground floor.

It sounds as if the city was promised the land would be given to them, but maybe there's another side to it that only Mr. Morris can explain. Or would he simply go ahead and donate the land now to save us all a lot of trouble as Brad Means suggested?

I'd like to see him interviewed on the matter. A respectful question and answer session with an outsider possibly. Why not, Mr. Morris?

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