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Augusta spends thousands in rent despite available city-owned space

Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 10:14 PM
Last updated Monday, Sept. 10, 2012 10:51 AM
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Despite several lean budget years, a municipal building with three vacant floors and a half-dozen surplus buildings on the auction block, the city of Augusta continues to lease hundreds of thousands of dollars of office space annually.

An Augusta Chronicle analysis of city Finance Department records shows Augusta will spend $660,470 on rented office space this year, with the majority going to three landlords: $176,840 to the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp., the owner of a building at 925 Laney-Walk­er Blvd.; $178,100 to Hutch Hold­ings, the owner of the New South Building at 360 Bay St.; and $193,152 to the Porter Co., the owner of a former bank building at 985 Broad St. that houses Richmond County Juvenile Court.

Despite the opening of the Augusta Judicial Center and John H. Ruffin Courthouse in April 2011 and available vacant space elsewhere, Augusta is spending more on rent this year than it did a decade ago, when a Finance Department study showed the city could finance a building over 20 years for less than it was spending on rent – $541,731.

Since then, rents have risen, although some of the landlords have changed. Augusta no longer leases space in Augusta Riverfront Center, which was home to the administration of Fire Chief Ronnie Few, and the city leases only a single office in the Hatcher Building at 501 Greene St.

Until the courthouse’s opening, which freed 3 ½ floors of the municipal build­ing, Augusta paid at least $158,861 annually to house the district attorney,
contractor Heery Interna­tional and the city law office in the Hatcher Building.

Rick Acree, the deputy director for facilities maintenance, was surprised to learn the city was spending more money now than a decade ago, as leased space at the Hatcher Building dwindled last year from two floors to a single suite.

“If you use five years, we are paying less,” Acree said.

Augusta pays the most per square foot, $18.17, to ANIC for the offices of Augusta Housing and Community De­velopment, despite the building’s location in an area officially characterized as blighted. Augusta pays a slightly lower rate, $17.20 per square foot, for Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick’s eastside tag office on ANIC’s first floor.

Calculating fair market rents is a subjective process based on many factors, including building condition, comparable spaces, size, location, parking, and included amenities and services.

Rents paid using federal funds, as is the case of Housing and Community Development, must be at fair market rates.

By comparison, Class A office space at Augusta Riverfront Center, which includes utilities and maintenance, lists at $21.50 a square foot. State-of-the-art office space in the renovated Enterprise Mill is advertised for $18 a square foot.

City officials say planting city offices in the ANIC building was intended to bolster the blighted community, but a commercial real estate developer performing a market study would likely consider the hefty ANIC rents an anomaly, said Bob Cashin, a retired Augusta commercial Realtor.

“You’d have to throw that comparable out,” Cashin said.

ANIC Executive Director Robert Cooks defended the rent rates based on the building’s size and quality. He said placing a high-end office building there bolsters redevelopment efforts in the area.

“One of the primary benefits from having that much traffic for services on Laney-Walker is people can see the changes,” Cooks said.

Earning the most city rent is the Porter Co., of Hen­dersonville, N.C., which owns the older but plush former bank building where juvenile court occupies 11,891 square feet. The building housed U.S. District Court while the federal building was being remodeled.

Since 2008, city government has footed the bill – now $193,152 annually, at $16.24 per square foot – for juvenile court to exist in a location separate from adult offenders.

Keeping juveniles apart and protecting their privacy was the theory behind Augusta’s move into the building from a location in the city-owned sheriff’s administration building, despite the 2011 opening of the judicial center and courthouse, according to City Administrator Fred Russell and Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet.

“Juvenile court is a joke,” said Augusta Commissioner Joe Jackson. “Why couldn’t the necessary repairs be made and they move (back) into 401” Walton Way, the leaky sheriff’s administration building, soon to be vacated. “When you’re sentencing a child to YDC, why does it have to be marble and champagne glasses?”

The Augusta Utilities Department administration has occupied leased space for a decade at the New South Building on Bay Street, owned by Savannah, Ga.-based Hutch Holdings. The city pays $15.64 per square foot for 11,389 square feet of office space at the building, equal to $178,100 in annual rent.

Augusta gained nearly 50,000 square feet of vacant office space – three of Augusta Municipal Building’s nine floors and part of a fourth – last spring, when most of the judiciary relocated to the new courthouse.

No city official has suggested that departments in rented space be invited to move in, however, and remodeling plans – on hold because of rising construction estimates and a shortage of available funds – include only one office for a department that now occupies rented space.

Commissioners searched for years after consolidation to find appropriate spaces to house merged city and county departments but probably have not acquired enough of them, Commissioner Jerry Brigham said.

“For the most part, I would prefer city offices in city-owned spaces,” he said.

The city recently acquired two more vacant properties on Laney-Walker, the former Penny Savings Bank and Mr. J.’s Famous Door Supper Club. Housing and Community Development will build new offices at the Famous Door site through a lease-purchase agreement, its director, Chester Wheeler, said.

And a third Laney-Walker purchase, still in the works, might replace Utilities’ rent, Russell said.

“We’re trying to get Utilities out of rented space,” he said.

Other city landlords include lawyer Wendell Johnson, listed as the owner of the 602 Greene St. home of University of Georgia Co­operative Extension, horticulture, nutrition and 4-H programs.

About 15 employees occupy 3,094 square feet of the 1890 house next to the Municipal Building. The city pays only $10.66 per square foot there, for a total annual rent of nearly $33,000.

Augusta also budgeted $37,000 this year for rented mobile buildings to house Utilities employees at two locations; $18,000 for leased space for a Natural Re­sources Conservation Ser­vice office at the Hatcher Building; and $12,000 to lease a recyclables transfer station at 3946 Goshen Industrial Blvd.

Comments (18) Add comment
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Riverman1
84114
Points
Riverman1 09/08/12 - 11:18 pm
6
0
Nobody should be getting

Nobody should be getting taxpayers' money except the Chronicle's parent company.

itsanotherday1
43297
Points
itsanotherday1 09/08/12 - 11:34 pm
5
0
Follow the MONEY... I bet it

Follow the MONEY... I bet it would bounce some eyebrows.

NavyVeteran
81
Points
NavyVeteran 09/08/12 - 11:48 pm
12
0
City of Augusta renting office space ? ? ? ?

This has got to be one of the most, if not the most boneheaded operations going. The City of Augusta is RENTING office space in buildings it does not own! ! ! If the article is to be believed, why is the City RENTING office space when it already OWNS enough for its needs. This entire situation is totally beyond common sense. Someone somewhere is getting paid for this. As the saying goes, "FOLLOW THE MONEY! ! ! !" The first to go should be ANIC. As I understand, they are collecting rent from the city but NOT paying their taxes. I can see the handwringing and gnashing of teeth when Augusta goes broke, "How did this happen? Where did we go wrong?"
Dump the entire Commission and put people in who will be concerned about the welfare of Augusta and not "the good ole boys" or "political correctness"

Fools_and_sages
360
Points
Fools_and_sages 09/08/12 - 11:58 pm
11
0
The old downtown library
Unpublished

Instead of auctioning the old downtown library, the city could have put a couple hundred thousand into a new hvac system, a new roof, replacing floor coverings, painting and rehabbing the interior, and adding some interior walls to subdivide it into office space or courtrooms or whatever they need. Instead, the building is a vacant eyesore and the city pays to rent space. The city should be using space in the older buildings to meet its needs and renting extra space in those buildings to generate revenues. Instead of spending $660k to rent space and auctioning off older buildings for a fraction of what they are worth, the city could be making money hand over fist by renting out its excess space. the city would just have to spend a little up front to make a lot in the end. But I guess that makes too much sense.

dichotomy
33017
Points
dichotomy 09/09/12 - 12:17 am
10
0
Just what I wanted to hear.

"the city of Augusta continues to lease hundreds of thousands of dollars of office space annually."

We taxpayers "south of Spirit Creek" would like to ask.........CAN YOU IDIOT CLOWNS THINK OF ANY MORE WAYS TO THROW OUR HARD EARNED MONEY AWAY??????????????

And run this by us again about......YOU ARE PAYING HIGHER THAN THE GOING RATE SO THAT YOU CAN HELP OUT THE "special" PEOPLE in the areas of DOWNTOWN that you are spending ALL OF OUR MONEY "redeveloping".

The "City of Augusta" is pathetic. And there is NOBODY, not one politician, not one "administrator", not one department head, and not one Procurement Office person protecting the taxpayer and looking out of our interests. Our commissioners and our administrator have totally failed to provide ANY oversight of where our money goes. Not surprising since Fred 'What, me worry" Russell thinks the price of a project can double in 90 days. We are governed and administered by idiots and maybe worse and not one of them is qualified to oversee the spending of one nickel of OUR money.

NAME ONE THING OUR PATHETIC GOVERNMENT HAS DONE RIGHT. You can't because they haven't done anything right. Not the white ones....not the black ones.....not the old ones.....and not the new ones. All they do is pee away our money like a bunch of sailors drunk on cheap beer. And it isn't just the elected officials and administrators. It's the Housing and Redevelopment folks and the Procurement Office and probably many other "city" departments. It's all funny money to them and they are just playing a game.

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 09/09/12 - 12:49 am
0
12
I think some people are so

I think some people are so anxious to comment how the city spends money downtown, and not any in South Augusta... They don't get the chance to read the entire article, and see the city is renting space on Goshen Industrial Boulevard(extreme South Augusta)...

The CBD is the real downtown, and not the Laney Walker or Bethlehem neighborhoods... The CBD and Laney Walker have much different median incomes, real estate prices, demographics, etc from each other...

The Laney Walker/Bethlehem money is coming from tourist(hotel tax), and not the local taxpayers.. Plus it's only $37.5 million over 50 years compared to the $20 million vocational high school(taxpayer money) almost complete in South Augusta.. The people who continuously bring up South Augusta act like West Augusta, Southwest Augusta, East Augusta, Harrisburg, Summerville, etc don't exist..

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 09/09/12 - 07:04 am
3
0
what exactly is southwest

what exactly is southwest Augusta?

G'ment Watcher
97
Points
G'ment Watcher 09/09/12 - 07:17 am
5
0
I noticed that the Main Bus

I noticed that the Main Bus Terminal on Broad St will be sold in a sealed bid sale...anybody know why we don't need it any more and shouldn't the Feds be involved since most public transportation involves Federal grants. I also noticed that the License and Inspection Department building is also up for sealed bid sale. Where will they move? As far as the Municipal Bldg goes, we are talking major renovations at a huge expense to make the old court rooms usable as office space. After all the money we spent on the Judicial Center, ask the Judges and find that most hate it.

seenitB4
87304
Points
seenitB4 09/09/12 - 07:25 am
8
0
The Old Library

I like the old library plan...why can't that be implemented?

seenitB4
87304
Points
seenitB4 09/09/12 - 08:08 am
10
0
Their thinking is...

City officials say planting city offices in the ANIC building was intended to bolster the blighted community,

Now think about this.....How many people do YOU know run to a blighted area just because of a spanking new building.....or do they run from a blighted area because of CRIME......
A pretty building won't make them safe.....a good tough Sheriff who will kick some behinds would clean up the blighted areas & business would follow....
One more time...BUILDINGS don't make a neighborhood....geeez...I need to run for office -----I would flip some things upside down forya.

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 09/09/12 - 08:10 am
4
0
SEENIT

could you repeat your above post on today's editorial? it is equally relevant there.

TrulyWorried
14283
Points
TrulyWorried 09/09/12 - 08:27 am
6
0
Unbelievable -

what a continuation of throwing the taxpayers' money out the window. Is there no one, I mean no one, in this town and city government that has any common sense? I think you could take 10 ordinary citizens out of the community and have them do a better job (they know - they have to earn and balance their money!) I cannot think of anything that has been done properly. Not even with the new Judiciary Center, first it is in a horrible neighborhood - (get the grass cut across the street) and then with all that space available they only cleared three and a half floors in the Municipal Building? Say it isn't so! - Ah - but this is the City of Augusta, Georgia - no can do - North Augusta, S.C.? Now THAT is something to look at. Can there be such a thing as a miracle??? I've lived around here for almost 60 years and am still waiting. :>(

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 09/09/12 - 09:51 am
1
0
Fred and the commission are laughing their shorts
Unpublished

off because they know there are not a dozen taxpayers willing to stand together against this corruption. Do taxpayers think that large men with baseball bats will come to the residence? None went to
ANIC? Or any of the hundreds of properties in ARC that do not pay taxes.

Unpaid taxes are simple "unexpected and coincidental". Nothing criminal. Except when that revenue comes from outside the "core district". Those folks are criminal to not pay their taxes. Ben Dover will be at your residence but not with a baseball bat. Fred and the clowns are laughing. Do you hear them?

seenitB4
87304
Points
seenitB4 09/09/12 - 09:48 am
2
0
Thank you

I did repeat it...:)

dichotomy
33017
Points
dichotomy 09/09/12 - 09:59 am
7
0
"what exactly is southwest

"what exactly is southwest Augusta?"

That's a term countyman uses when he trys to infer that some area SOUTH of the "city" is getting some development....but he KNOWS that is not THE South Augusta we are all talking about. We are talking about the South Augusta that the "City of Augusta" has raped and robbed for the last 17 years by TAKING it's tax money, doing nothing for it, and infusing it with Section 8. The thing about business people is that most of them are pretty smart. After watching the "City of Augusta" and it's policies toward South Augusta for 10 years or so it was obvious that South Augusta had been singled out as the sacrificial donor to finanace the rebirth of the downtown "city" while being left to die on the vine of neglect. Most of the retail and restaurants packed up, locked up, and left....except for nail salons...we've got lots of nail salons....and more than our share of hole in the wall oriental restaurants...... and used tire places. Just how many dedicated used tire places do they have in "southwest" Augusta...or "west" Augusta....or on Laney Walker.....or Reynolds.....or in Martinez or Evans. Well folks, if you need some used tires, or some sparkly 4 inch nails, or an eggroll, you know where to come to get them.

I'd like to invite countyman and commissioner Guilfoyle out to see the latest "development" on Old Waynesboro south of Brown Rd. They are called potholes. The road is coming apart in chunks. I've got a 4 foot pothole right in front of my mailbox. Twice I've been hit by flying chunks of asphalt while getting my mail. And it's that way all up and down the road from south of Brown Rd. I reported it to the "city" and they came out two weeks later and threw some dry asphalt in the hole one morning. It was all gone and the hole was 4 foot long again by nightfall. The new asphalt is laying in the ditch and my driveway along with the old asphalt. Let's see.....$thousands in property tax / 5 shovels full of dry ashphalt X the 1 day it lasted = the "City of Augusta" at it's finest serving "South" Augusta. Even the Engineering Maintenance folks have become incompetent like the rest of the city employees. They used to do a pretty good pothole repair when it was Roads and Bridges. Ahhh...the good old days BC....Before Consolidation....or....BRR.....Before Russell Reorg. I guess the pothole money must a little short what with ANIC not paying their property taxes and us having to pay them higher than market rates to rent the property that they are not paying the taxes on. Oh yeh...on the property they built with TAXPAYER money.

countyman....you know, the "City of Augusta" wasted it's $500,000 paying for a study that said "discourage development south of Spirit Creek". The "city" has done a fine job of that for 17 years.

Little Lamb
46040
Points
Little Lamb 09/09/12 - 11:20 am
5
0
TEE Center

“For the most part, I would prefer city offices in city-owned spaces,” Commissioner Jerry Brigham said.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
You could have built a lot of city government office space with what you paid for the TEE Center and Marriott Parking Deck (especially when you throw in the $50 million bribe money for the Laney-Walker housing debacle.

Little Lamb
46040
Points
Little Lamb 09/09/12 - 11:22 am
2
0
Southwest

omnomnom asked:

what exactly is southwest Augusta?

Dichotomy gave the long answer above (thumbs up!), but the short answer is Fort Gordon.

TrulyWorried
14283
Points
TrulyWorried 09/09/12 - 11:23 am
5
0
dichotomy

you said it like it is - and I can testify to those pot holes - here today, gone tomorrow - ah but they come right back - we pay taxes just like everyone else but are and probably always will be, the step-child of the folks called "Commissioners" - and they get paid to do nothing or screw things up even worse.

clumber
43
Points
clumber 09/09/12 - 05:06 pm
2
0
Rent

Remember; It is not their money they are playing with.

Georgia Dev
5
Points
Georgia Dev 09/09/12 - 05:22 pm
0
2
LOL

and you wonder why the board members of mcg changed their name to regents.

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 09/09/12 - 09:21 pm
1
3
Dichotomy... The usual crowd

Dichotomy... The usual crowd on here was against the master plan similar to anything else.. They're logic is continuing doing absolutely nothing, and complaining about absolutely everything at the same time..

Can you please look the Richmond County master plan? I've already told you several times before the majority of the plans focus on South Augusta.... 7 out of the 11 creation projects are located in South Augusta... Four of the seven projects in South Augusta are beyond south of spirit Creek..

The $1.8 million grant is for the 15th street/MLK/Deans Bridge rd corridor... The study quote said 'discourage development south of Spirit Creek', but four of the eleven projects are south of spirit creek.. The $500k study was quote a 'waste', but the city received a $1.8 million grant due to the master plan... If we did nothing the city would have no grant money or master plan...

Southwest Augusta: Belair rd, Jimmie Dyess, & Gordon Hwy between Jimmie Dyess & Grovetown... It's one of the fastest growing areas in the metro, and Richmond County... Gordon Hwy iis thought of as South Augusta, the part of Gordon Hwy(btw Jimmie Dyess & Grovetown) zipcode is 30909(West Augusta), and not 30906(South Augusta)..

Wayne guilfoyle
162
Points
Wayne guilfoyle 09/09/12 - 10:25 pm
0
0
Love too

Dichotomy & rebelious , I would like to talk with you one on one on the current issues as well as the future issues. I've already posted my cell number and I would like to correspond with you. Again all you have to do is call, I will answer or return you're call within a hour, just like everyone I represent in Augusta, Ga. In case you do not have me already in your phone, my number is 706-399-4060 ps you never call about a pot hole or Augusta Cares 706-821-2300

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