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Augusta Commission: Revitalization not attracting private investment

Revitalization project lacks investor interest

Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 8:01 PM
Last updated Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013 1:48 AM
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Called a potential game changer for its ability to attract private development to a long-blighted area, Augusta’s Laney-Walker and Bethlehem redevelopment project hasn’t attracted anything close to its promise of a 10-to-1 ratio of private and public dollars in its few first years.

Conceived as a compromise to win support for completion of the Augusta Convention Center, redevelopment of the historically black districts was guaranteed about $750,000 annually from a transportation and tourism fee charged on hotel room rentals for 50 years.

With an Urban Redevelop­ment Plan in place, city officials borrowed $8 million against the future fees in 2010 and began spending the money while continuing to tout the project’s ability to leverage public dollars for private investment.

Three years later, the first bond issue has been spent – along with $2.5 million in federal Housing and Urban Develop­ment funds – but private investment remains an “aspirational goal,” according to city documents from Housing and Community Development Direc­tor Chester Wheeler.

“We are trying to turn around almost a half-century of blight and disinvestment in our urban core,” said the document, a response to Commis­sioner Alvin Mason’s request for information about the identities of private developers and amounts of their investments.

“In the short term, this means that the public sector will be bearing much of the financial burden for this turnaround play,” the document say. “In the longer term, it is our goal to have the private sector step into the shoes of what government is doing today.”

The project Web site, devised by consultants Melaver-McIntosh as part of a comprehensive “rebranding” strategy for the area, cites the objective of “leveraging each public dollar with 10 private investment dollars” and offers low- and interest-free financing and other assistance toward that end.

From the start, the project was billed as using public funding merely to attract private investment. Jesse Wiles, the president of project consultant Asset Property Disposition Inc., said in 2009 that the “vast majority” of funds would come from the private sector, according to Augusta Chronicle archives. Mayor Deke Copenhaver has often cited the 10-to-1 ratio as he’s promoted the project at planning conferences across the country.

According to the city’s own figures, however, private investment has been limited so far. Wheeler’s document says the ratio of private to government dollars on completed construction projects is 7-to-1, excluding the city’s investment in infrastructure. He cites the planned $5 million investment in Twiggs Circle as the largest example.

His other instances of private investment lured by the city’s infusion of cash are United House of Prayer’s community housing development organization’s development of about 30 apartments in the 1200 block of Wrightsboro Road – listed as a $4 million investment – and $2 million in construction financed by J&B Construction.

Excluding Twiggs Circle, the remaining investment represents $6 million in private investment to the city’s expense of $10.5 million in public funds, making the ratio of government to private dollars 1.75-to-1.

“We are yielding results. We are attracting outside investors,” Wheeler says in the document. Attempts to reach Wheeler on his cell phone Friday were unsuccessful. Russell did not return a call seeking comment.

Augusta commissioners have questioned Wheeler’s reports and the city’s oversight of the project. Mason called Wheeler’s written report incomplete.

With bond funds now spent, however, the project needs an additional $2.5 million to continue until 2015, according to Wheeler. The request goes back before commissioners Monday at a work session.

“Where’s the $41 million?” Commissioner Joe Jackson asked in a recent interview of the amount of private investment he expected to see at this point.

The money has been spent on consultants ($2.1 million); property acquisition ($3.2 million); contractors ($1.8 million); architects and engineers ($364,496); and demolition ($201,122.) An additional $517,520 went to construction of two pocket parks and sidewalks, while new home buyer assistance has amounted to $230,025.

Of 32 lots developed, according to Wheeler’s latest count, 14 new houses have sold, two are on the market, five are under construction or have construction pending, and eight are rented.

“We’re not supposed to be in the building home business anyway,” Williams said. “We’re supposed to give a jump-start and look for developers to come in and do this.”

Comments (28) Add comment
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countyman
20129
Points
countyman 09/21/13 - 08:55 pm
2
12
Keep moving forward!!!!

The title is very misleading, and completely false... The article seems to indicate Joe Jackson might have expected more in terms of private investment, but none of the commissioners have stated the development has attracted zero investment.

A private developer just announced the 4-5 story residential building in the Medical District... The Laney Walker neighborhood is located right between the CBD and the Medical District. The Walmart Market center, Cherry Tree redevelopment, 15th street widening, Cancer Center, etc is coming to 15th street.

The Laney Walker/Bethlehem development is already successful.

1. Several people constantly said the city wouldn't be able to sell any homes in the two neighborhoods.

2. How many of Augusta's poorer neighborhoods have even attracted $500k in private investment let alone millions of dollars like LW/Beth?

3. The Kroc Center($100 million) opened in Harrisburg, and were just now seeing the real benefits in terms of attracting investment(Cookout restaurant, Walmart market neighborhood shopping center).. Why does anyone think $8 million would change Laney Walker that much faster?

Did Joe Jackson really expect $41 million in new private investment for two neighborhoods that have been neglected for decades?

How many areas/towns in the CSRA have even attracted $41 million worth of investments let alone single neighborhoods? The intown neighborhoods in Atlanta don't even gentrify that fast.

Little Lamb
46022
Points
Little Lamb 09/21/13 - 09:06 pm
11
0
Just Vote No

Just vote no on the "bridge loan" and let Chester Wheeler survive off of the hotel tax. No more loans, no more leverage. Just live off of what you take in.

Riverman1
84029
Points
Riverman1 09/21/13 - 09:58 pm
13
2
Pants on Fire

I told you I trust nothing positive being said about this project. The thousands spent every month for public relations spin artists can't even help.

So this 10-1 private-public investment line that has been going on for a long time is a total fabrication. The city is going to spend $750,000 annually plus whatever infrastructure the area needs. Wheeler and Copenhaver have gone all over the country spouting the untruth about all the private investment. They should be censured. The Commission was misled.

"Of 32 lots developed, according to Wheeler’s latest count, 14 new houses have sold, two are on the market, five are under construction or have construction pending, and eight are rented."

This is pathetic. It's time to cut the losses now and have bulldozers knock everything down, plow it under and salt the earth.

Gage Creed
17236
Points
Gage Creed 09/22/13 - 01:10 am
7
1
"Why does anyone think $8

"Why does anyone think $8 million would change Laney Walker that much faster?"

Well, how about LWB pays back the $8M and we call it even? If you tout a 10-1 ROI shouldn't you at least do 50% of that? Oh, and nice try with the medical district grabs...

oldredneckman96
5095
Points
oldredneckman96 09/22/13 - 07:34 am
6
1
A silk purse?
Unpublished

What is it I remember about you can not make a silk purse out of a sows ear?

seenitB4
87304
Points
seenitB4 09/22/13 - 07:39 am
6
1
Rat Hole

How many pie in the sky rants can Augusta survive......how dang many?

Get a grip here ....VOTERS --you will have to replace the guys in the downtown office...change LEADERS asap....these maybes & someday your ship will come in has gone BYE BYE!
Why yall don't MARCH about this, I will never understand.

Pops
8520
Points
Pops 09/22/13 - 07:44 am
8
0
Bottom line

This Chester Wheeler is just trying to prolong receiving his paychecks. His canoe is slowing sinking.

Pops
8520
Points
Pops 09/22/13 - 07:58 am
8
0
Sounds like

Chester is at the beach with his phone off.......

nocnoc
42654
Points
nocnoc 09/22/13 - 08:02 am
6
1
Just more $$$$$ wasted on Downtown

Business 099A
For a Businesses to flourish it must local where there is a customer base that can afford and will purchase the product being sold.

Until MCG starts to expand into the areas that ARC power brokers cleared and prep'd for future students housing and medical building for there will be little business growth, beyond Mom & Pop Stores.

BTW: To many, all this really was, was a payoff for the approval to waste $$$ on a few bigger CBD projects.

Dixieman
14948
Points
Dixieman 09/22/13 - 09:09 am
8
1
These downtown revitalization projects....

...never work.
Never.
Anywhere.
They have been tried thousands of times in thousands of locations and are just government boondoggles. All they do is suck money out of the pockets of hard-working taxpayers and throw it down a rathole or enrich someone's cronies.

chascushman
6653
Points
chascushman 09/22/13 - 09:27 am
8
3
this is no surprise at all.
Unpublished

this is no surprise at all. the liberals/progressives, democrats will continue to take Augusta down the drain. it happens in every city they run and so goes our country.

thauch12
6670
Points
thauch12 09/22/13 - 10:06 am
9
1
"You can put lipstick on a

"You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."

It doesn't matter how "nice" these homes are when they're surrounded by blight on three sides. Is it really a huge surprise that people are reluctant to invest here?

dichotomy
32986
Points
dichotomy 09/22/13 - 10:29 am
9
0
Laney Walker........Laney

Laney Walker........Laney Walker........oh yeh.....that's now located either side of Peach Orchard Rd and Mike Padgett Hwy between Gordon Hwy and Tobacco Rd.

Laney Walker has not been transformed....it's just been transported to the southside dumping grounds. It's called Consoldation. That is government speak for taxing people and using YOUR money to destroy YOUR neighborhoods. NOTHING has improved COUNTY WIDE. They have simply used YOUR money to move the problem out of their precious "old city".

Tell us the COUNTY WIDE impact of the Laney Walker boondoggle. Tell us how many South Augusta businesses have CLOSED because of the Section 8 relocations and drained tax revenues with NO investment on this end of the county. C'mon countyman......don't just serve us the dessert.....serve some of those crap sandwiches we are being forced to eat...and PAY FOR......on the South Side.

Riverman1
84029
Points
Riverman1 09/22/13 - 10:55 am
8
1
A Model Town

Create a fake village funded by government money that has nothing to do with the reality of the desire of people to live there. Does this sound like a model town created by a socialist government or what?

Darby
25694
Points
Darby 09/22/13 - 11:49 am
6
0
"Attempts to reach Wheeler on his cell phone

Friday were unsuccessful. Russell did not return a call seeking comment."

.
Anyone sensing a pattern here?

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 09/22/13 - 12:42 pm
1
9
Anybody notice the majority

Anybody notice the majority of negativity ALWAYS comes from people who don't even live in Richmond County. The sky is always falling, but multiple homes have sold in both neighborhoods..

The development has already manage to attract millions of dollars, and we've just begun the process.

The revitalization of Olde Town has worked, and plenty of neighborhoods have changed in metro Atlanta.

Another reason why this city needs more people under the age of 35... Some of these people still think the suburbs are the places with the lower crime rates, and less poverty.. They also think young people, empty nesters, etc are scared to live in transitional neighborhoods..

I can't wait to hear the responses when they build a apartment building targeted to GRU/Paine College students, or just young people in general.

Little Lamb
46022
Points
Little Lamb 09/22/13 - 01:04 pm
4
0
Apartments

Who is the they you are talking about building an apartment building, Countyman? Surely you are not talking about Chester Wheeler and ANIC!

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 09/22/13 - 02:05 pm
1
6
Little Lamb... Private

Little Lamb... Private investors...

The CBD has plenty of new residential developments underway, and the growth is spreading into the Medical District.

The next place for large residential investments is clearly Laney Walker, because of the location. The Mills campus breaking ground soon would probably bring Harrisburg into the spotlight a little more than Laney Walker, but Laney Walker is closer to the MD/CBD...

dichotomy
32986
Points
dichotomy 09/22/13 - 02:51 pm
6
0
"I can't wait to hear the

"I can't wait to hear the responses when they build a apartment building targeted to GRU/Paine College students, or just young people in general."

I don't care WHAT they build or where as long as they start spending MY TAX money WHERE I live. AND as long as I AM TAXED as the SAME RATE as the OTHER people in the SAME COUNTY (which I am not). And as long as I AM CHARGED the SAME FEES as OTHER people in the SAME COUNTY (which I am not). And as long as I GET the same level of SERVICE as other people in the SAME COUNTY (which I don't). And as long as there is the SAME LEVEL OF CONCERN about bringing retail and restaurants and upscale housing to MY AREA as there is to DOWNTOWN (which there isn't).

WHAT SAY YOU countyman??????????????? I AM an RC resident.....ADDRESS MY RICHMOND COUNTY RESIDENT CONCERNS.

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 09/22/13 - 03:27 pm
1
7
Dichotomy... Hyde park

Dichotomy... Hyde park relocation, Butler Creek Greenway, multiple new amenities in Diamond Lakes, Marvin Griffin road, Morgan rd widening, Windsor Spring widening, Mike Padgett reconstruction, Doug Barnard landscaping project, magnet high school next to Augusta Tech, etc...

Dunkin Donuts, Five Guys, Fire House Subs, and 3 acre development next to the Walgreens are coming to South Augusta.

I've heard the local company Hull Storey might redeveloped their shopping center on Peach Orchard road(Goodwill/Post office).. The object would be to attract the national retail and restaurants chains.

Please don't think I'm here to take up for the commission or local government.. I just think it's hilarious when people accuse the city of Augusta of spending all this money downtown...

It makes no sense when somebody can easily visit Savannah, Chattanooga, or Greenville and see the buildings/parks/private-public investments in their downtown compared to Augusta's.

Riverman1
84029
Points
Riverman1 09/22/13 - 04:15 pm
10
0
Consolidated County

“It makes no sense when somebody can easily visit Savannah, Chattanooga, or Greenville and see the buildings/parks/private-public investments in their downtown compared to Augusta's.”

Sure it does. Those other cities are not consolidated counties. They are mainly urban areas. Remember the old city of Augusta was only 44,000 and the population has not changed much. When you have a consolidated county no one area should be favored for where money is spent.

Actually, a large amount of county money has been spent downtown with the TEE Center, BOE building and now the Laney-Walker initiative. Now another $40 million is wanted to renovate the Municipal Building. As far as private money not being spent downtown like in those other cities, you can’t make people spend where they don’t want to. We see that in Laney-Walker where we found out the 10 to 1 private investments is a total lie.

seenitB4
87304
Points
seenitB4 09/22/13 - 05:00 pm
8
0
OMG

Dunkin Donuts, Five Guys, Fire House Subs, & Walgreens

South Augusta you have hit the BIG TIME! and some of those are just a promise in the wind...

Pops
8520
Points
Pops 09/22/13 - 07:54 pm
4
0
Hearsay

"I've heard the local company Hull Storey might redeveloped their shopping center on Peach Orchard road(Goodwill/Post office)."

Somebody told me they heard they thought they read that someone wrote that they heard that Bill Gates was going to spend 2 billion dollars on downtown so finally he could get a Five Guys Burger when he is here playing golf.

GnipGnop
12240
Points
GnipGnop 09/22/13 - 08:14 pm
4
0
Ok hasn't is now been a year

that you have been harping the five guys? That's not what he is talking about anyways! He is talking about reasonable response time for police. Fair property tax system, revitalize the southside instead of dumping the housing trash into formerly great areas, Augusta is not a 10 block area and despite what you post people do not come to Augusta to see the riverwalk.

badmoon426
1173
Points
badmoon426 09/22/13 - 09:55 pm
2
0
Minimum Wage Jobs...

...do not spawn careers at Dunkin Donuts, Five Guys and Fire House Subs. The point of this is argument is Augusta is having setbacks economically with mature area employers that are not being compensated for by jobs paying minimum wags.

I certainly cheer on the development of fast food franchises in the area but do no mistake them for saving the local economy.

badmoon426
1173
Points
badmoon426 09/22/13 - 10:11 pm
3
0
As for LWB Overlay...

...and this expected GRU expansion.

Any GRU expansion will have to reviewed and approved at the state budget level. Currently, the University of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University all have major budgets, needs and come first over short term Georgia Regents University plans. GRU firstly needs to figure out what to do with its existing facilities and personnel before any major expansion plans can be realized.

In the end, it will be good for Augusta.

As for the LWB Overlay, it is a pork filled project that its biggest payout is to builders, consultants, marketing experts, planners and not the people of the area. So since Chester Wheeler couldn't manage his project with his initial budget, he should not be budgeted any more taxpayer money until he and his department prove they can manage a project (maybe having a resource and milestone project plan would be a good start).

badmoon426
1173
Points
badmoon426 09/22/13 - 10:18 pm
2
0
Really Liberal Progrssives And...

...Democrats?

Chascushman, I believe most of the individuals involved in the 'givernment' of Augusta Richmond County are really Republicans ( although they are undeclared). If you are not aware most of the recent projects in Augusta have benefited the friends and families of some of the more famous and thoroughly connected in Augusta.

mosovich
805
Points
mosovich 09/22/13 - 10:27 pm
5
0
Olde Town???

"The revitalization of Olde Town has worked," I ride through there all the time, I can't say I've seen many changes.. I've got some friends that live down there and fit that 30-40 age group and moved there for it's "city like feel".. So far, one had been robbed at gun point, one had his motorcycle stolen, and the other his apartment broken into.. Is it the revitalization of crime you speak of? I'm confused..

badmoon426
1173
Points
badmoon426 09/22/13 - 11:22 pm
2
0
Gentrification...

...Is someones revitalization, but in the end I think we are all confused on the success of Olde Town, since Deke Copenhaver and Fred Russell along with their consulting group of Jim Plunkett and Diane McNabb want to label downtown a 'slum' (definnition - heavily populated urban area characterized by substandard housing and squalor).

Darby
25694
Points
Darby 09/24/13 - 01:23 am
1
1
"It makes no sense when somebody can

easily visit Savannah, Chattanooga, or Greenville and see the buildings/parks/private-public investments in their downtown compared to Augusta's."

.
I'd be more than happy to trade their municipal government for ours.

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