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Augusta Commission balks at housing director's loan request

Tuesday, Aug 20, 2013 11:10 PM
Last updated Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 12:20 AM
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Augusta Commission members put the brakes on a $2.5 million loan sought by the city’s Housing and Community Development director to continue an ongoing redevelopment effort in two historic black districts.

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Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett listens to Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett listens to Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler.

They also voted, with Mayor Deke Copen­haver breaking a 5-5 tie, to seek more proposals for the management or sale of Augusta Municipal Golf Course.

Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler defended his department’s spending of $8 million on Laney-Walker redevelopment, despite its resulting in only 19 new homes over the project’s first three years. Wheeler sought the loan to cover a shortfall until the city is able to issue additional bonds based on future collections of a hotel bed tax, of which $750,000 a year is guaranteed to the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem efforts for 50 years.

Wheeler said while only a handful of houses were built and occupied, 275 lots had been obtained and 97 dilapidated properties had been demolished.

“And we are paying $45,000 a month to market all those?” Com­missioner Marion Williams asked.

“The $45,000, commissioner, is for project management,” Wheeler said. “It is rare for you to find in any city government the kind of talent in engineering and construction related that you could employ in-house and put them on a project of this magnitude. So you hire the people who do.”

Marketing, meanwhile, a significant effort to “rebrand” the blighted area, is $6,000 a month, Wheeler said.

Some $660,000 a year on consultants, Commissioner Joe Jackson said, “could be better spent.”

A vote to refer the matter to an upcoming committee meeting passed 8-2, with Commissioners Bill Fennoy and Bill Lockett opposed. Any more than a few weeks’ delay, Wheeler said, would cause “serious financial impact.”

Commissioners also approved 9-1 a meeting between City Ad­min­istrator Fred Russell, Dis­advantaged Business Enterprise Coordinator Yvonne Gentry and Ellis Albright after Albright’s fifth appearance before the board. His nonprofit organization, the CSRA Business League, wants to help minority-owned businesses win more city contracts, but at a contract price of $175,000.

Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle, a contractor whose mother is Japanese-American, noted he’d never been offered help by the group, nor had he sought it. He and Commissioner Donnie Smith peppered Albright with questions about the proposal and its legality under the city’s court-ordered injunction against using race-based preference.

“This is not the forum to interrogate him,” Commissioner Bill Lockett said. “It’s 10 of us up here. No more of the ‘I’ stuff.”

“Eleven people up here,” Copen­haver noted.

General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said Albright could serve as the city’s agent to work with minority-owned businesses so long as his activities did not violate the court order.

For the city-owned golf course, Fennoy said he has played the course for 35 years and it is now living up to its nickname, “The Patch.”

“I went up there last week and it was pitiful the way that course has been allowed to deteriorate,” he said.

After three failed efforts to outsource management of the course, it has been operated since last year by a skeleton city staff. Williams called Tuesday for another vote on a proposal to merge the course with adjoining First Tee of Augusta, but Davis offered a substitute motion to issue a new request for proposals to manage, lease or even buy the course.

“I feel like there are some good opportunities out in the community,” Davis said.

The course was privately run for many years, and could be again, Guilfoyle said. “The RFP needs to clearly state what we want as a body, what we want for the future of that course.”

In other business, the commission:

• Voted to receive as information Gentry’s report on her office’s recent success in obtaining race, gender and other data from companies and their subcontractors doing business with the city. Old bid documents didn’t request the data, but starting this year they do, Gentry said, and contractors are providing it. The data is needed to justify the use of racial preference.

• Voted down a motion to hire a director to oversee both Disadvantaged Business Enterprise and Equal Employment Opportunity issues, which is called for by the city’s charter.

• Heard about plans to develop a proposal to manage downtown parking from Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan, who received a job offer Monday from York County, S.C. Shanahan said the completed proposal will be ready for committee review in three weeks.

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corgimom 08/21/13 - 03:15 pm
I invite all of you to go to

I invite all of you to go to and look at 1244/46 11th St, one of the Heritage Pine properties. It's a duplex. It's selling for $173,950, it's a duplex of 2,028 sq ft total (so you're looking at approx 1000 sq ft per unit)

This is what it says- "Heritage Pine ... downtown living at its best! The McQueen II Duplex Plan. Live on one side, rent the other. Great for Owner Occupant or Investor. Call for Special Financing and Buyer Incentives."

So is that what that money is going to, so somebody can invest in properties and make money, and get wealthy? I thought it was supposed to be so that people could afford their homes and live in decent housing.

(Note: Yes, the McQueen is obviously named after Miss Butterfly McQueen)

Then there's the Silas- 1243 Laney-Walker Blvd. It sells for $194,852, the price has been cut $10,000, it was built 2009, and has been on Zillow for 547 days

Please, AC, do a story on these properties!

corgimom 08/21/13 - 04:23 pm
Yeah, LL, but you know

Yeah, LL, but you know what?

He's already spent $8 mil (over $9 if you consider debt service.)

Now he wants $2 mil more, to build houses that nobody wants.

Now you're talking about $11 mil in 3 years.

The commitment is only for $37.5 million.

He's using up the money pretty fast.

CobaltGeorge 08/21/13 - 05:01 pm
Not Living In Richmond County But Read The Reports On It,

I have come to one undeniable conclusion, "Richmond County Has A Major Problem"!

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 08/21/13 - 05:10 pm
More Than One

More than one problem, George, more than one.


sandhillbilly 08/21/13 - 05:29 pm
This is wrong on all levels....

There needs to be a forensic audit on this project. Where is the oversight and transparency? The numbers are not adding up. How can this Director, Wheeler justify paying over $600,000 a year for consultants. Someone needs to check the relationship between Wheeler and these consultants. Who approved the consultant's contract which should include the scope of work and fees? This Director is self serving and is only interested in how many awards he gets before leaving this project high and dry. Where is the Development board that was assembled to oversee this project? It is time to issue an open records request!

nocnoc 08/21/13 - 05:37 pm

I understand speaking with a Builder / Developer, that my wife has known for 30+ years.

I told me a story about a few years ago trying to install a group of Factory Sectional Build Homes in this general area of Downtown.

Despite being to up to all codes, NOT being Mobile Homes, but real houses that would cost $80k to $150K. He was turned down.

The reason he was going with Pre-built Section construction was, to cut down on site build time to 11 days vs. 5 to 8 weeks. While also reducing the costs of Security Guards on site and other issues.

He mentioned something about not involving the right people in the Request process and Zoning Group?

Anybody know of this?

Riverman1 08/21/13 - 08:08 pm
Who Pointed Out ANIC Wrong Doings First

"Lori Davis, Al Gray and Dee Mathis all brought up problems associated with the LWB overlay."

That may be true, but I also know Scott Hudson did a series of radio reports about ANIC's finances quite awhile back. This may not mean much since Scott and Al are friends and Scott may have gotten the info from Al for all I know.

countyman 08/21/13 - 09:17 pm
Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn

Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express are two different hotels... Their under the same chain, but Holiday Inn Express is under construction on Broad.

I know the TEE Center is doing well enough, because it's attracting private development into the county.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 08/21/13 - 09:53 pm

Countyman posted:

I know the TEE Center is doing well enough, because it's attracting private development into the county.

That's easy enough to assert; but it's impossible to prove.

corgimom 08/21/13 - 10:33 pm
What private development is

What private development is it attracting, Countyman? Please let us know, we'd all be interested.

Because I think that if it were attracting private development in the county, then the AC would have a front-page headline and story about it. And they don't.

porsche 09/19/13 - 11:42 pm
More money for housing?

Looks like no one was providing oversight of the bond funds being used for housing revitalization. Sounds like the fox watching the hen house.

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