City department plans new Laney-Walker office building at former nightclub site

The site of a former Laney-Walker nightclub could become new office space for the city department leading the massive Laney-Walker neighborhood revitalization project.

The city’s Housing and Community Development Department is planning to move from a rented space in a building owned by the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. into a new building one block down Laney-Walker Boulevard, said Chester Wheeler, the director of HCD.

Mr. J’s Famous Door Supper Club was sold by Richard L. Johnson to the Augusta Land Bank Authority for $332,840. The nightclub’s adjacent parking lot and several vacant parcels nearby were also sold in related transactions.

The nightclub property was appraised in 2011 for $300,000 by Herbert May of May Appraisal Co. According to 2012 city property records, the nightclub building and .15 acre were valued at $83,243.

Donna Murray, a deputy chief appraiser for the city, said the difference between the market value and the appraisal amount could reflect a market value that hasn’t been adjusted in several years because of staffing shortages.

The market value for the Famous Door land and building was last measured in 2005, she said. That number does not include the value of the business, personal property and furniture, which also could be reflected in the selling price.

“That was a thriving business at the time it sold,” Murray said.

Wheeler said the purchase price included the value of the operating nightclub business. The appraisal document obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, however, said “the appraisal considers no value for the business … an accountant will have to determine the value of all personal property and the value of the business.”

Bill Armstrong, the treasurer for the National Association of Realtors, said separate appraisals are normally conducted for the business and the property value. He added that assessments are often significantly lower than the market value because cities often lag behind on assessments or property owners contest them in order to pay lower taxes.

“If it’s an up and coming development area, there could be a significant difference between values,” Armstrong said.

Municipalities also tend to pay more for property than the private sector, he said.

Located at 850 Laney-Walker Blvd., the Famous Door Supper Club had a history of criminal activity. It was the scene of a November 2008 fight in which a man was stabbed to death with a broken bottle. An altercation between two men in January 2002 sent one to the hospital with a broken jaw and a gunshot wound to the shoulder.

Wheeler said the purchase and pending demolition are part of revitalization efforts in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods. Demolishing the Famous Door Supper Club gets rid of problems sometimes associated with a nightclub, such as loitering on street corners late at night, he said.

“We didn’t know at the time that we bought it exactly what we were going to do. But we knew we had to get rid of the nightclub,” he said. “We also felt that to build an office building on the site of the Famous Door is going to stabilize the whole environment.”

The building’s demolition, Wheeler said, has been delayed because of vents from an old gas station on an adjacent property. He said no other agencies or departments would occupy the new building. Housing and Community Development would sign a lease, pay rent for the lease’s term and purchase the building at the lease’s completion.

Wheeler said the department could not move into the Augusta Municipal Building, slated for renovation, because it needs to be in the neighborhood where the department works. Renovation of the Penny Savings Bank, across the street from the Famous Door and also purchased by the Land Bank for redevelopment, would be too expensive, he said.

City Administrator Fred Russell said building a new office for HCD is “killing several birds with one stone.” It rids the area of a nuisance property and furthers Laney-Walker redevelopment, he said.

“It’s a small part of a very complex puzzle,” Russell said.

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