Downtown Augusta incidents put spotlight on safety

Augusta Commission member Alvin Mason’s Mother’s Day present to his mother, Hazel Sturdivant, was a hat. His. He threw it into the ring, announcing he’s going to run for mayor next year.

He made the announcement Saturday at his quarterly community breakfast at Gracewood Community Center. His campaign slogan is “Working Together for a Better Augusta.” And if anybody wants to talk to him about race, he said, he’s turning a deaf ear.

 

DOWNTOWN, EVERYTHING’S WAITING FOR YOU: The brutal beating of a young couple on Riverwalk Augusta, the robbery and assault of a man leaving a Broad Street pub, and a downtown brawl in the wee hours of the morning got everybody’s attention.

Politicians and downtown community members met last week at a forum organized by the Downtown Augusta Alliance and concluded that downtown is safe but that perception is reality, which means, I think, that people don‘t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. And unfortunately, some don’t.

“Downtown is not a dangerous place,” said Commissioner Corey Johnson.

 

AND YOU MAY FIND SOMEONE WHO’S KIND TO HELP AND UNDERSTAND YOU: “Downtown is a safe area,” Commissioner Bill Fennoy said. “I think when incidents like this happen it is sensationalized in the press.”

(That’s right. Blame the press. It never happened. The press made it all up.)

“We have $50 million to $70 million invested in Reynolds Street,” Fennoy continued. “We don’t want the message outside of Augusta to be a message that downtown is not a safe place, a place you can’t bring your family.”

When I hear somebody talking like that it reminds me of a movie quote where an actor asked an actress whether Miami officials had posted shark alerts, and the actress said officials would post shark alerts when a shark came up out of the water and started walking down Flagler Avenue.

Commissioners also weighed in on the situation during their meeting while discussing the possibility of putting security cameras on riverwalk. Mason said Augusta has a lot less crime than most cities its size.

I don’t know whether that’s true, but I wouldn’t dispute it, based on my experience working downtown for almost 19 years.

I walked on Broad Street and riverwalk during the day about three times a week all those years and can’t remember ever feeling threatened, except for the night my tire blew out when I backed out over a whiskey bottle in a parking pit. It was late at night after an election, and I’d parked in front of a bar where some unsavory-looking characters were loitering.

 

YOU CAN FORGET ALL YOUR TROUBLES, FORGET ALL YOUR CARES: I loved working downtown. Where else can you window shop the latest fashions and shape up at the same time, get soul just by walking by the Soul Bar, feel good looking at the James Brown statue and see the folks lined up for the Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas toy giveaways, try not to step on every crack and break your mother’s back, see every parade that marches by, and watch fire trucks pulling up in front of the Summit apartment building after some poor soul has fallen asleep with a pot on the stove?

In my opinion, downtown Augusta is as safe as anywhere else during the day or before 10 p.m. when other people are around. After midnight, I wouldn’t walk the streets without an armed guard. But nowadays, the only place you’re really safe is at home in your own bed with a loaded gun by your side. And even then, if you’re a really sound sleeper, you might still become a victim if somebody breaks in unless he knocks a lamp over or something.

 

IT IS A JOKE: “The reason we all know Augusta is not a safe place to be is very simple,” west Augusta resident Butch Storm e-mailed. “The sheriff travels with two armed security officers. How reassuring is that? He is the first sheriff in the history of Richmond County to feel so insecure about his own safety that even he will not venture out into the public without armed guards.”

I think Storm was jokingly referring to the sheriff’s security detail.

 

DOWNTOWN, YOU’RE GONNA BE ALL RIGHT NOW: Downtown Development Authority members are having another study done. And they had to go to Alabama to find a consultant to do it. They’re going to pay between $40,000 and $60,000 for a retail study designed to attract businesses downtown.

“These are going to be national or regional retailers who are used to urban areas and what generally are some of the challenges that come with urban areas,” said Margaret Woodard, the authority’s executive director.

Could someone please translate?

 

HOW LONG DO WE HAVE TO STAND HERE? While reading some old stories on the DDA, I ran across this 2007 quote from Woodard: “We are on the brink of greatness in downtown Augusta.”

 

HERE’S A STORY YOU PROBABLY HAVEN’T HEARD: In 2008, when the Medical College of Georgia president, Dr. Dan Rahn, fired the MCG Foundation because it wouldn’t give him $5 million for the dental building, he, by the same action, fired the person who later became the biggest individual donor in the history of the college.

The foundation member and subsequent $10 million donor for the educational building was Dr. J. Harold Harrison, a longtime member and past president of the MCG Foundation. Although his real concern was for the students and teachers, he gave $10 million for the building because it was needed to ensure that the home of the Medical College would remain anchored in Augusta and not sail away to the old Naval School property and buildings in Athens.

After his death, Harrison left $66 million to the MCG Foundation because he was confident that the foundation, particularly Executive Director Jim Osborne and members Dr. Cecil Whitaker, of Columbus, and Dr. Billy Mayher, of Albany, would make certain that the money would be used for scholarships and faculty professorships. That $66 million donation is apparently the largest single private donation in history to any public Board of Regents institution in the state of Georgia.

 

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THIS, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES? Former Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength’s friends, including lawyer Freddie Sanders, went to great lengths to keep Strength from finding out he’d been chosen to receive the Augusta Bar Association’s 2013 Liberty Bell Award.

And to ensure that Strength would show up for the Law Day dinner to receive the award, Sanders told him the Bar Association members wanted him to speak and that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle would be there. Strength agreed to do it and started working on a speech that ended up being eight pages long.

“I practiced on my speech,” he said, “but I kept asking myself, ‘Why would the lieutenant governor want to hear me speak? ”’

When Strength arrived, Sanders led him to a table where he’d placed a fake program listing Strength as the keynote speaker and Cagle as an honored guest. Strength looked at it and said, “He really is coming to hear me speak.”

The ruse was carried out until the last minute. Strength was truly surprised and said afterward, “It was a great honor.”

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Sat, 12/03/2016 - 23:37

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