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Columbia County dodged touchy term in redevelopment resolution

Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013 7:55 PM
Last updated Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 10:11 AM
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Designating the entire central business district as a “slum” to borrow money to renovate the Augusta Mu­nicipal Building can be avoided, if a neighboring county’s effort is any guide.

Columbia County in 2011 designated an area around the West Town shopping center in Martinez using the same Urban Redevelopment Act that Augusta leaders are attempting to use to issue $26.5 million in tax-exempt bonds for the renovation.

While Augusta’s resolution – specifying the entirety of downtown bounded by Wal­ton Way, Gordon Highway, 15th Street and the Savannah Ri­ver – takes pains to characterize the 594.5 acres as a blighted slum, Columbia Coun­ty stepped around the issue when it implemented the West Town Market Area Ur­ban Redevelopment Plan.

“We made a decision early on that we didn’t want to use those words,” Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson said. “We were concerned that there may be some negative perception.”

Columbia County’s resolution omits the words “slum” and “blight” and instead notes that the area contains dilapidated, old or obsolete buildings and conditions potentially harmful to health, safety and welfare.

Jim Plunkett, the attorney who drafted Augusta’s resolution, questioned omitting the word “slum” and pointed to Geor­gia Code section 36-61-5, which requires a local government to determine “one or more slum areas exist” to exercise redevelopment powers under the law.

“In my opinion, what Augusta is doing is highly transparent,” Plunkett said. “We were just quoting the statute. We weren’t trying to be cute or avoid anything.”

Columbia County did not omit the words from its Ur­ban Redevelopment Plan for the area, which traces the Rich­mond County line between Furys Ferry Road and Bobby Jones Expressway, but it detailed concerns raised by local officials that such a designation might hurt the area’s reputation and obtained feedback from officials who had already addressed the issue. The city of Roswell, Ga., for instance, used the term “distressed” and presented the plan as a way “to prevent the development of slums.”

The plan says Columbia Coun­ty specifically avoided the use of “phrases, euphemisms or characterizations that might adversely affect the ultimate success of future plans for the area.”

WHILE AUGUSTA similarly designated the blighted Laney-Walker, Bethlehem and Harrisburg areas several years ago, news that it was doing the same downtown caught the commission off guard when it appeared on a finance committee agenda. However, only one commissioner – Wayne Guilfoyle – opposed the designation because its bond issue relies on sales tax funds not yet approved by voters.

The matter will reappear at Tuesday’s commission meeting. Though several commissioners are questioning it, four are attending training Tuesday in Athens, Ga., that might cause them to miss or be late for the 5 p.m. meeting. Six of 10 are needed to pass a measure.

A fifth commissioner, Joe Jackson, said he’ll miss the meeting but questions the wisdom of the designation and Urban Redevelopment Plan.

Its stated target, the municipal building remodeling, is as much a “smokescreen” as the debate over the word, Jackson said, to divert attention from the powers the government will gain by adopting the designation.

“It’s more for the public-private partnership of buying these abandoned buildings downtown to keep the property values from rising,” he said.

Jackson, Guilfoyle and Mayor Deke Copenhaver were absent March 11 when the commission voted 7-1 to approve issuing bonds for the renovation, when the use of the Urban Development Act for the project was not discussed.

Commissioner Bill Fennoy, who represents downtown and was the one commissioner to oppose the renovation project, said he’d received “phone call after phone call after phone call” about the issue.

“I definitely would not want to support that project if they’ve got to use ‘slum’ in there,” Fennoy said. He’ll request sending Tuesday’s agenda item back to committee for further discussion.

Commissioner Marion Wil­­liams agreed that creating a five-member governing entity with the capacity to issue bonds and do projects without commission approval was the problem.

“It’s four to five groups that want to run the city of Augusta, but they’re not elected,” he said. “It’s a trick they’re trying to pull.”

Copenhaver said the city owed it to taxpayers to look for savings on projects, but declined to explain what benefits might exist in making the designation other than tax savings over the 20-year life of the bond issue. City Administrator Fred Russell said the savings were about $1 million but could be more, depending on interest rates and other factors.

ACCORDING TO THE Georgia De­partment of Community Affairs, creating a “slum” district gives a government or other assigned entity wide powers to facilitate redevelopment in an area, in addition to authorizing the issue of tax-exempt bonds that don’t count toward a government’s debt cap.

The designation allows design and use requirements to be attached to the land, simplifies acquisition of property and permits exceptions to local ordinances.

“Removing uncertainty is one key to spurring private market investment in target redevelopment areas,” said a department guide to using the Urban Redevelopment Act.

However, the district should have a redevelopment plan in place, which includes a description of parcels to be acquired, demolished or rehabilitated; land use objectives; and a “workable plan for leveraging private resources.” Involving private resources is a primary focus of the law, according to the department.

In addition to the municipal building renovation, Au­gusta’s redevelopment plan cites several proposed future projects including a $75 million biotechnology research park, a $10 million Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, $500,000 to convert the old chamber of commerce building to a tech business incubator and a $225 million housing and retail development to support 7,000 new Georgia Regents University students.

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rebellious
21295
Points
rebellious 09/15/13 - 09:33 pm
8
0
Good Work

Susan McCord! Would like to see the tweet you're gonna get on this article. I will leave the dissection to more studious minds as your work provides fodder to uncover more nefarious intent, I believe.

Again, Good Work!

Gage Creed
17859
Points
Gage Creed 09/15/13 - 09:49 pm
8
0
I'm not a finance major but,

I'm not a finance major but, I don't see how it is fiscally sound to count on funds from SPLOST that has not yet been approved yet...

But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last week... (Not the one at 444 Broad Street)

raul
5323
Points
raul 09/15/13 - 10:35 pm
4
0
Thanks, Susan!

Thanks, Susan!

dichotomy
34415
Points
dichotomy 09/15/13 - 11:07 pm
8
0
Well.....at first I thought

Well.....at first I thought they were simply being stupid......stupid for using the word slum.....and stupid for obligating money against a SPLOST that has not even been proposed to the voters yet.....and which I sincerely hope will be rejected by the voters as a signal that we have HAD IT UP TO OUR EYEBALLS.

But now I am starting a smell a big fat sewer rat with this "other assigned entity wide powers" thingy. I don't even like the COMMISSION having wide powers, much less some unelected group of the well connected who probably got rich at the taxpayers expense.

countyman
20588
Points
countyman 09/15/13 - 11:22 pm
1
12
Love the proposed projects

The trends show many young families, empty nesters, young professionals, etc are moving into the urban core. Several different types of moderate/upscale companies, boutiques, retail, etc will only move into urban areas.

I think anybody oppose to the plan should visit metro Atlanta. Look at the private sector growth in those areas before and after the designation.

The last paragraph is the type of growth I've been talking about. The only advantage cities like Charleston, Greenville, Chattanooga, Savannah, Durham, etc have is their urban core. With the exception of probably Durham, the city of Augusta would have the advantage of having high paying jobs in the urban core(jobs in the CBD and Medicak District already exist). Large companies would even begin to open in Mcduffie, Burke, or Edgefield.

The CBD stops at 13th street, and the Walmart market shopping center is obviously the reason the boundaries including 15th street.

Ask yourself do you want to see Gap, Publix, Target, Anthropologie, etc in the CBD?

galaxygrl
1270
Points
galaxygrl 09/16/13 - 01:12 am
7
0
High End Retailers in a "slum" area

That was too much for me! Gap, Publix, Target and Anthropologie coming Downtown? I have written to Urban Outfitters and they told me they had no plans to open a store in any of their brands in our area even though they have call centers here and a warehouse. I really don't see them downtown. Gap is holding on by the seat of their pants to stay alive and Publix and Target seemed to have already staked out their locations for now.

Riverman1
86917
Points
Riverman1 09/16/13 - 05:06 am
5
0
Nice Article

Barry Paschal pointed out the word slum was never used by Columbia County. I had done searches previously of the CCNT articles on the subject and nowhere was it used in describing the application and designation. The newspaper didn't use the word either. Al Gray will probably get into detail at the commission meeting concerning this attempt to borrow even more money than the law allows. Nice article.

nocnoc
44930
Points
nocnoc 09/16/13 - 07:21 am
7
0
As noted:

Columbia Co. did it without using the word SLUM and got its grant.

But in all reality, I could careless. it defines all of Downtown to me.

But we all know the only reason it is being done is the get
$$$$ for the marble palace not to improve the area economically .

If they wanted to improve a Business SLUM area they could have used it to fix the US25/Peach Ord. Rd. Corridor from Scott Rd to to Windsor Spring. Or, the100 Blocks leaving East Boundary through Olde Town to 600 block Downtown.

Or a number of more deserving such depressed areas.

NO this was about 1 thing, DOWNTOWN.
Spending $42 Million to fix a Government building DOWNTOWN.
At a cost that is MORE than it would have been to build a completely NEW facility already code compliant, and Green Energy OK.

No this whole thing boils down to DOWNTOWN again doing something the WHOLE COUNTY has to pay for, just so it can be done DOWNTOWN.

This is what DOWNTOWN calls Consolidation.

QUESTION:
When are the NON OLD CITY areas & Annual Event Route areas going to see $100's of MILLION$ invested to fix its problems?

DOWNTOWN areas have had 1 overhaul and infusion of $$$$$ after another for 20 years with extremely limited results. It is way past time to start caring for the other parts of ARC.

.

Little Lamb
46920
Points
Little Lamb 09/16/13 - 07:39 am
7
0
Bonds

When you renovate your city hall, you are not doing anything to improve blighted areas where people live. You are not improving conditions of citizens.

Normally, city hall renovations would be financed by general obligation bonds, which require a referendum of the people. Instead, this redevelopment system was used so the people do not have a say.

seenitB4
90795
Points
seenitB4 09/16/13 - 07:59 am
3
0
Nice

Nice article Susan....words mean something.

Marinerman1
5079
Points
Marinerman1 09/16/13 - 08:55 am
4
0
Attraction

The Marble Palace is not a tourist attraction. I think that using funds derived to fix "blight" to fix the Marble Palace would border on being illegal. What these dollars need to be spent on, is to fix whatever needs to be fixed to attract new business and new people into ARC - ones that actually PAY taxes. ARC cannot afford to spend this money any other way. And a lawsuit could well follow if it continues this talk about Marble Palace renovations, using monies that have not even been approved. At least Columbia County had a plan to actually improve the area, not rebuild a government building.

Little Lamb
46920
Points
Little Lamb 09/16/13 - 09:32 am
4
0
Common Courtesy

From the story:

The matter will reappear at Tuesday’s commission meeting. Though several commissioners are questioning it, four are attending training Tuesday in Athens, Ga., that might cause them to miss or be late for the 5 p.m. meeting. Six of 10 are needed to pass a measure.

For goodness sake, if you know four members of the board will be in training out of town on the day of the meeting, why not re-schedule the meeting to another day when all ten can be there?

Bizkit
32950
Points
Bizkit 09/16/13 - 09:33 am
5
0
Here is the difference

Here is the difference Columbia County was smart about it's choices and Richmond County didn't even think about the possibilities.

Little Lamb
46920
Points
Little Lamb 09/16/13 - 09:37 am
3
0
$10 Million for a grocery store?

From the story:

In addition to the municipal building renovation, Au­gusta’s redevelopment plan cites several proposed future projects including a . . . $10 million Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market.

Wal-Mart is about to open a Neighborhood Market in the shopping center at Furys Ferry Road and Evans-to-Locks Road in Martinez. I'm sure it was done for less than $10 million. Someone will be getting a serious kickback out of that $10 million, but nobody's talking.

Little Lamb
46920
Points
Little Lamb 09/16/13 - 09:43 am
5
0
Coalition

Reading the above story one gets the feeling that Bill Fennoy, Marion Williams, Joe Jackson, and Wayne Guilfoyle are opposed to this method of financing the Marble Palace renovation. With a coalition like that, it should not be too difficult to pick up two more votes and kill the thing.

countyman
20588
Points
countyman 09/16/13 - 09:42 am
1
7
Bizkit.. You support being

Bizkit.. You support being sneaky or withholding information to protect an false image?

Marinerman... Richmond County plans does go beyond the Municipal building, and includes the CBD and Medical District. The last paragraph mentions the GGHF site, commercial development near Kroger on 15th street, renovated commerce building on Broad, etc..

Marinerman1
5079
Points
Marinerman1 09/16/13 - 09:59 am
7
0
Okay Then...

countyman - If ARC does have a plan, then they'd best execute the plan, NOT to include ANY renovation of the Puzzle Palace with those funds. There will be a lawsuit filed, and there well could be people arrested for improper use of funds. I agree with LittleLamb - I want a piece of that $10 million Wal-mart.

countyman
20588
Points
countyman 09/16/13 - 03:05 pm
1
5
The city of Augusta is far

The city of Augusta is far behind several peer cities when it comes to investing downtown.. Nobody can accuse this city of being out in the front in terms of gentrification/revitalization.
The city already created the opportunity zone in South Augusta. The plan will help the Starbucks plant, roads in the corporate park, Georgia Power's new building, and the future company who should make their public announcement by the end of 2013.

The $2 million Walmart market in Martinez is the old Food Lion building. The one planned off 15th street consist of brand new construction. Either way it's the private sector and they can spend $8 million more in one area compared to the other if they choose too.

Bizkit
32950
Points
Bizkit 09/16/13 - 01:59 pm
3
0
"Bizkit.. You support being

"Bizkit.. You support being sneaky or withholding information to protect an false image?" You mean like consolidation in an effort to make Augusta the second largest city? ? Augusta has had great potential to be as other cities yet they aren't. Wonder why?

countyman
20588
Points
countyman 09/16/13 - 03:03 pm
1
4
Augusta

City limits don't really mean anything in 2013, and developers look at the metro area. I always make sure to call Augusta the second largest metro, and let other's use that term... Savannah is really the second largest 'city' in the state..

Columbus is consolidated with the entirety of Muscogee County, and became the second largest city recently...

rmwhitley
5547
Points
rmwhitley 09/16/13 - 04:07 pm
0
0
Just wonder
Unpublished

how municipalities survived before the democrats came in and started requisitioning tax-payer dollars for their upkeep? The only good gubmint employee is---- there ain't no such thing as a good gubmint employee.

Riverman1
86917
Points
Riverman1 09/16/13 - 05:57 pm
3
1
Countyman, you are correct

Countyman, you are correct that the city limits don't mean much in this time of consolidation of Augusta, Columbus and Athens. But your statement about Augusta lagging behind other cities in terms of investments in the downtown area deserves scrutiny. This really gets to the heart of many of the disagreements.

The former city of Augusta had a population of 44,000 and that's the true city area. Yet 75% of the county population is in the old non-incorporated areas. Most of the other cities are in nonconsolidated counties. They are urban areas where you would expect them to spend in the urban area because that's mainly what they are. Not so in Augusta-Richmond County with 75% of the population supporting an area with only 25% of the people.

Little Lamb
46920
Points
Little Lamb 09/16/13 - 05:21 pm
2
0
Williams

From the story:

Commissioner Marion Wil­­liams agreed that creating a five-member governing entity with the capacity to issue bonds and do projects without commission approval was the problem. “It’s four to five groups that want to run the city of Augusta, but they’re not elected,” he said. “It’s a trick they’re trying to pull.”

Marion has a point. To use these redevelopment bonds, the government entity has to appoint a civilian board to oversee them. Marion fears lack of commission oversight. But who appoints the board? Is it the Mayor? Is it the Administrator? Or is it the Commission? Does the U.S. Justice Department get to weigh in? Do you think that Paul Simon might wrangle a seat on the board?

Riverman1
86917
Points
Riverman1 09/16/13 - 05:55 pm
4
0
Won't Be Al Gray

LL, Al Gray won't be on that board, that's for sure. But nobody knows anything. I understand how some of the commissioners feel. This thing is ready to fly and no one has said a word to them. It reeks of the cabal trying to get even more money from the county. The remodeled municipal building will probably have a kitchen or something run by the Marriott. Municipal Building at the Marriott.

gargoyle
18573
Points
gargoyle 09/16/13 - 06:32 pm
3
0
Same scam, Same people. Once

Same scam, Same people. Once you figure out who's who in the cabal you know how this will end and who is getting played. Let the games begin.

countyman
20588
Points
countyman 09/16/13 - 07:48 pm
1
2
The population of Greenville

The population of Greenville is around 60k, and the population of Greenville county 451,000.... The leaders in Greenville just realized the importance of downtown, and the cultural effects that come along with certain types of growth.

Riverman... City limits don't really mean anything no matter the city. Some cities annex the surrounding land in the county, and others consolidate with the entire or an portion of the county.

All of the cities I've mention before have more people in the suburbs compared to the old city.. Some of those cities might have a larger population in the city, but they usually have a bigger land area too.

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