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Committee OKs downtown 'slum' designation

Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 9:08 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 1:26 AM
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Augusta Commission members debated the merits of declaring the central business district a “slum” to borrow money to renovate the Municipal Buil­ding, but ultimately a committee approved the measure 3-1 Monday.

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Commissioners Marion Williams (left) and Donnie Smith speak during a meeting Monday. Deeming downtown a "slum" grants exemptions for the Municipal Building renovation project.   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Commissioners Marion Williams (left) and Donnie Smith speak during a meeting Monday. Deeming downtown a "slum" grants exemptions for the Municipal Building renovation project.

“Part of that package was to be bonds based off SPLOST 7,” said Commissioner Wayne Guil­foyle, who opposed the measure. “I don’t believe in borrowing money we don’t have.”

The commission voted 7-1 in March to renovate the Munic­ipal Building by borrowing $26.5 million backed in part by future sales tax collections but didn’t discuss other details of the bond issue.

Attached to Monday’s finance committee agenda was the city’s plan to designate 594 downtown acres as a “slum” under a Georgia law to allow a special Urban Re­de­velop­ment Agency to issue tax-exempt bonds for the project.

Jim Plunkett, the special city counsel for bond projects, said he’d worked on the deal for months, though most commissioners said they knew nothing of its details until reading The Augusta Chron­icle on Friday or their lengthy agenda packets late Thursday.

“Why is it that I had to find out from print media that this was in the works?” asked Commissioner Bill Lock­ett, who is not a member of the finance committee approving the measure. “This is something we should have probably talked about in a work session.”

City Administrator Fred Rus­sell said it was “unfortunate that the word has to be used” but that the designation ultimately allows the agency to issue tax-exempt bonds, which will save the city about $1 million over the life of the loan.

“I’m somewhat rewarded by the fact that so many have taken offense,” he said.

Plunkett said the large district was designated to coincide with the existing Tax Allo­cation District, getting the designation “over and done with at one time.”

“It’s something that everybody has to just accept,” he said.

Commissioner Marion Wil­liams said he had “no idea” a slum designation was required to remodel the Municipal Building.

“If we use that and it’s not a slum area, are we within the guidelines of the law?” he asked.

Plunkett said it was “the discretion of the board” to determine whether downtown “meets the definition of a slum under the statute.”

Commissioner Alvin Ma­son said he wasn’t concerned about the word.

“I’m all for looking into those options,” he said. “I’m not scared or worried about the word ‘slum.’ ”

Commissioner Bill Fen­noy, also not a member of the finance committee, argued that “words do matter. What you call a slum does matter … Business owners, property owners on Broad Street are very concerned about their businesses being designated as a slum.”

Broad Street businessman Mike Walraven read the state’s criteria for the official “slum” designation. It cites dilapidated buildings, crime, health hazards, poorly configured street layouts and noise pollution. He cited a state guide’s recommendation that the designation be “handled sensitively” so not to become “the subject of extensive debate.”

Walraven also asked for examples of the designation’s effectiveness in the Harris­burg community, which was given a similar “slum” designation several years ago.

Mayor Pro Tem Corey John­son said the word was distracting commissioners.

“We get caught up in what people think,” he said, offering that they call him a “bum” to get $2 million.

In another matter, the new Au­gusta Convention Center is performing better than expected, according to Paul Si­mon, of Augusta River­front LLC, which operates the convention center and hotel complex on the edge of the proposed district. The company shares management with Morris Communications Co., owner of The Chronicle.

In the first seven months of the year, the center is $191,694 under budget, Simon said. The center has been used for 20 conventions attended by 16,025 people whose total estimated visitor spending is $2.7 million, he said.

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raul
4105
Points
raul 09/09/13 - 09:30 pm
9
0
It it wasn't so sad, it would

It it wasn't so sad, it would be humorous. Commissioners not even knowing this was under consideration. Voting in March to approve 26.5 million dollars for the renovation without knowing the details of the bond issue. Relying on money not approved. Sounds like Commissioner Guilfoyle is the only one with an informed, sound decision. I still haven't heard an answer as to how this designation will affect property values. If it lowers values, will property taxes be adjusted accordingly?

GnipGnop
11460
Points
GnipGnop 09/09/13 - 10:02 pm
5
0
Raul....

NO!!!

dichotomy
30428
Points
dichotomy 09/09/13 - 10:09 pm
9
1
The fact that Commissioner

The fact that Commissioner Guilfoyle is the only one trying to make sound decisions indicates exactly why District 8 should not be a part of the "city" of Augusta. HE HAS SOME COMMON SENSE.

He represents US and we, who are taxed to pay for all things DOWNTOWN and given NOTHING in return.........we understand that you should not borrow money against a SPLOST that HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED BY THE VOTERS.....and hopefully WILL NOT be approved by the voters just because of these kinds of "slum" shenanigans.

On a side note......I see Paul Simon is really happy with the convention center WE BOUGHT HIM AND HIS BUDDIES. Wonder if they are happy with the PARKING DECK we bought them too.

gargoyle
13327
Points
gargoyle 09/09/13 - 10:27 pm
6
0
"Mayor Pro Tem Corey John­son

"Mayor Pro Tem Corey John­son said the word was distracting commissioners.
“We get caught up in what people think,” he said, offering that they call him a “bum” to get $2 million."
May I be the first from his district to call him a bum. Raul... Approving a 26 million Tax Payer Dollar payout without discussing details how or where the money would come from is unbelievable incompetence.

raul
4105
Points
raul 09/09/13 - 10:31 pm
7
0
I just viewed a report from

I just viewed a report from one of the local television stations. Two issues were clarified that I may have missed or haven't been addressed. One, the designation will save 2 million dollars and two, the full commission still has to vote on this, which I suspected. but wasn't clear on. So, 2 million dollars is the basis for saying you have a downtown slum. Fred Russell, the mayor, and at least three commissioners support this method for monetary advantage. Personally, I was thinking a much higher amount to sell your city down the river. Two million is really "budget dust" in the big picture.The full commission will vote next week, as I understand. Commissioners should think long and hard on the decision they are about to make ,giving weighty consideration to the intangibles, like the reputation and perceptions of Augusta by outsiders and residents alike. This decision isn't just about saving 2 million dollars.

Little Lamb
43819
Points
Little Lamb 09/09/13 - 10:53 pm
6
0
TEE Center

From the story:

In the first seven months of the year, the TEE Center is $191,694 under budget, Paul Simon said. The center has been used for 20 conventions attended by 16,025 people whose total estimated visitor spending is $2.7 million, he said.

Estimated, Shmeshtimated. What I want to know is how much actual rent the convention sponsors paid to the city. When does The Augusta Chronicle dare publish that figure?

Little Lamb
43819
Points
Little Lamb 09/09/13 - 11:00 pm
5
1
Clueless

From the story:

“Why is it that I had to find out from print media that this was in the works?” asked Commissioner Bill Lock­ett.

Well, Commissioner, you’ve got to become engaged behind the scenes, day in and day out. Government is not about grandstanding in front of the cameras and microphones. You’ve got to go to meetings and ask tough questions of department heads week after week after week. Government is not for the faint of heart. We need commissioners who are sharp and on the ball. Lockett does not qualify.

Little Lamb
43819
Points
Little Lamb 09/09/13 - 11:02 pm
7
1
Crying in the wilderness

Oh, Commissioner Lockett, did anyone answer your timid, plaintive question?

Little Lamb
43819
Points
Little Lamb 09/09/13 - 11:36 pm
8
0
Parking Deck

Dichotomy posted:

I see Paul Simon is really happy with the convention center WE BOUGHT HIM AND HIS BUDDIES. Wonder if they are happy with the PARKING DECK we bought them too?

Good question, Dichotomy. Would The Augusta Chronicle care to publish the net income the parking deck brought into the city’s coffers (or the net loss to the city)?

deestafford
23514
Points
deestafford 09/09/13 - 11:07 pm
11
0
So, let me get this straight:

A company is looking to locate in this area and during their research they find that the downtown and 500+ acres of the main town are designated as a "slum". So, they decide to call the honchos of the city and ask them what is going on and the reply is, "Oh, it ain't really a slum. We just lied in order to get some money to redo this white elephant we have on Greene Street."

rebellious
20154
Points
rebellious 09/09/13 - 11:24 pm
6
0
Be Clear

As i read the the declaration of slumdome, makes the city prime for loans which are payable by SPLOST 7, which has never been brought to vote.

Little Lamb
43819
Points
Little Lamb 09/09/13 - 11:34 pm
10
0
Marble Palace

The redevelopment funding process was intended to benefit people living in actual slums. Maybe it would be for improved housing. Maybe it would be for transportation subways.

But, let's face it, no one back in the fifties and sixties would have ever considered a remodeling of city hall to be the intended beneficiary of a redevelopment grant.

DeeStafford is absolutely correct that our city/county commission is about to lie to the state agency in order to shave a point or two off the interest on some bonds to remodel the Marble Palace. That is immoral and shameful on the Commission's part.

Riverman1
79194
Points
Riverman1 09/10/13 - 04:09 am
11
0
Can We Tell The Truth?

Can we please simply tell the truth about the TEE Center? There are $1.4 million in yearly advertising and management fees. Utility and maintenance costs are additional and will be determined later. The city is supposed to get a percentage of receipts above $400,000. Has that happened even once? No. Have the costs to build the TEE and parking deck been considered? No.

There have not been 20 “CONVENTIONS” at the TEE. Simon is simply not telling the truth. There may have been 20 events such as the half day bridal show, but not 20 conventions. Simon counts everything as a convention.

For instance, next week the Georgia Board of Regents meets there and it’s listed. There will be about 30 people attending. Augusta Care Pregnancy is NOT a convention.

These events that are touted have been to Augusta before using existing facilities. The JB Arena, Sacred Heart and other venues are LOSING business. Bridal shows were once part of the bread and butter of the JB Arena. Ask them about the loss of business.

Lastly, keep in mind if there actually was $2.7 million in visitor spending that translates into little tax receipts for the city and doesn’t consider costs to the city such as providing required police for the TEE and utility costs.

Sure Simon is happy with the arrangement and trying to make the city believe things are not so bad.

Riverman1
79194
Points
Riverman1 09/10/13 - 04:44 am
5
0
Fade to Black With Journey Playing in Background

The slum designation so the Commission-Administrator can force the city to borrow more reminds me of the Mafia dons taking over a business.

They would make the owner borrow and beg all he could using his good name until finally the loans stopped and the owner’s reputation was soiled beyond repair. The dons would smile as they made him borrow from banks, loan sharks, friends and family, telling whatever lies it took to get the money.

When there was no more money to be had they would leave the sobbing owner with Journey playing in a vandalized backroom finally coming to the realization of what he had done to himself and his family, knowing there was only one way out, as he raised the gun. Fade to black, Augusta.

WeAreAllInfected
111
Points
WeAreAllInfected 09/10/13 - 05:28 am
6
0
Top Headline

This is going to be the top headline when businesses looking relocate to Augusta google us.

Note to the Mayor, This isn't the media's fault. The people that could have stopped this include: you, Fred Russel, the 3 commissioners that voted to approve.

Dixieman
12877
Points
Dixieman 09/10/13 - 06:34 am
5
0
This is good for two reasons:

1. Augusta gets some money back.
2. We can now refer to the mayor and commissioners as "slumlords".

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
7054
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 09/10/13 - 06:54 am
5
0
reminds me of the Mafia dons taking over a business.

How much will all the lawsuits cost when the property owners sue to have their taxes reduced due to the slum designation? If several get together then it could become a class action suit! Man, wouldn't the networks have a field day with that!!!!

nocnoc
38300
Points
nocnoc 09/10/13 - 06:58 am
7
0
Commissioner Wayne

Commissioner Wayne Guil­foyle,

Again a the lone voice of reason.

Anyone still doubt De-consolidation is needed to save Richmond Co. from Downtown?

GnipGnop
11460
Points
GnipGnop 09/10/13 - 07:17 am
6
0
flcracker
112
Points
flcracker 09/10/13 - 07:38 am
8
0
What are they thinking?

Broad Street businessman Mike Walraven read the state’s criteria for the official “slum” designation. It cites dilapidated buildings, crime, health hazards, poorly configured street layouts and noise pollution. He cited a state guide’s recommendation that the designation be “handled sensitively” so not to become “the subject of extensive debate.”

My problem with this is that the slum designation is being used to remodel one building and not the 500+ acres that has been called a slum.

“We get caught up in what people think,”
I would hope so. We elected you and pay your salary.

deestafford
23514
Points
deestafford 09/10/13 - 08:41 am
3
0
There is a saying,

"He ain't totally useless. He can always serve as a bad example."

Sort of the same can be said about Augusta-Richmond County consolidation: "It wasn't totally useless. It can serve as what not to do for others considering consolidation."

raul
4105
Points
raul 09/10/13 - 10:09 am
1
0
Cost savings?

The AC in its on line posts says the slum designation will save 1 million over the life of the loan. Channel 26 reports the savings as 2 million. Which is it folks? It shouldn't be that hard to verify.

Little Lamb
43819
Points
Little Lamb 09/10/13 - 10:46 am
2
0
Save?

Raul, if your wife comes home from the store with a mink coat she just bought for $28,000 and she says, “Honey, I saved $500 because it was on sale,” is it true?

countyman
19068
Points
countyman 09/10/13 - 12:44 pm
1
6
Designation & TEE Center

Why is the media stuck on this designation? How come it wasn't considered a big deal for certain parts of Columbia County but now it deserves multiple articles when it's located Richmond County?

The TEE Center is under budget, and continues to bring growth. The parking deck is also doing much better than expected, and under budget. I thank the citizens everyday they approved the TEE, because they made sure Augusta was moving in the right direction...

The Technet conference has NEVER been to Augusta before, and their bringing 1,500 people September 10th-12th.... The Mary Kay Conference(2,600) was just held earlier this year..

The TEE Center is already responsible for almost $3 million in the first six months, and the building is under budget...

Let's not forget direct visitor spending won't include all the money spent at the restaurants, retail stores, gas stations, etc.. Or the private investment which is a result of the TEE Center opening(i.e $8 million Holiday Inn Express). I'm positive the TEE Center will help make the new hotel by the common an reality.

Little Lamb
43819
Points
Little Lamb 09/10/13 - 11:17 am
3
0
Meaningless Statement of the Day

Countyman posted:

The TEE Center is under budget, and continues to bring growth.

countyman
19068
Points
countyman 09/10/13 - 11:21 am
1
4
James Brown arena

The James Brown is doing very GOOD in 2013.. The arena was recently ranked the 7th for top venues, and the Globetrotters event has seen increased attendance every year for the previous five.

''Global Spectrum is proud to announce that the James Brown Arena was recognized by Venues Today Magazine as #7 on the Hot Ticket Top 10 List for venues 5,001-10,000 seats in second quarter. This notable honor is based upon total gross sales and attendance during this time period.''
http://buzzon.biz/2013/08/global-spectrum-managed-james-brown-arena-reco...

''The James Brown Arena once again broke the Augusta box office record, making this five consecutive years. The James Brown Arena is the only venue on the North American Tour to receive this recognition.''
http://buzzon.biz/2013/03/james-brown-arena-breaks-box-office-record-wit...

Little Lamb... The statement is only meaningless to you, because you were against the TEE Center. The majority of people in Richmond County voted for the TEE center, and would be happy the center is under budget.

Sean Moores
832
Points
Sean Moores 09/10/13 - 11:37 am
2
0
@Raul 10:09

I texted reporter Susan McCord. She said that at this point it is just an estimate of future tax savings on bonds that haven’t been issued yet. It depends on interest rates and other factors. Both numbers were given.
She said that she will check on it today to see if they have a more accurate estimate.

raul
4105
Points
raul 09/10/13 - 11:45 am
3
0
@Little Lamb. If I were

@Little Lamb. If I were married, and my wife bought home a 28k mink coat, we would probably be talking divorce time. Ha.
@Countyman "Why is the media stuck on this designation? How come it wasn't considered a big deal for certain parts of Columbia County but now it deserves multiple articles when it's located Richmond County?"
Well, the downtown is considered the "heart" of the city. Right? CBD and all that. Maybe they should call the Arts in the Heart of Augusta Festival, the Arts in the Slum of Augusta Festival. See my point?

Susan McCord
119
Points
Susan McCord 09/10/13 - 11:59 am
3
0
Savings amount

I asked Fred Russell about the precise amount of savings the city will see from issuing the tax-exempt bonds. Russell said "rough numbers" were "a million-ish," and possibly more, over the 20-year life of the loan, but interest rates, the city's bond rating etc will impact the final amount.

countyman
19068
Points
countyman 09/10/13 - 12:09 pm
1
5
Raul... The CBD doesn't

Raul... The CBD doesn't extend all the way to 15th street.

The media seems to be focusing on covering the perceived negatives related to downtown compared to ALL of the positives news..

I don't understand the sarcastic remarks related to the Arts in the Heart, because none of the comments were negative when Carolina Pottery opened in Martinez. None of the articles included the headline 'Carolina Pottery opening in the slum of Martinez'.

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