Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Downtown Augusta incidents put spotlight on safety

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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.”

Comments (21) Add comment
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nocnoc
46992
Points
nocnoc 05/11/13 - 08:32 pm
4
0
A favorite Augusta Political past time Lets have study.

City Consulting studies and the way it normally works is.

They pay a friendly consultant $40k to $250K with a narrowly predetermined scope of study in mind. The study tells them something they know, and they wanted to begin with.

In short many Consulting Studies are just another way for Politicians to manipulate the process get what they want and reward friends.

Ever wonder how many "friends" end up with temporary jobs with consulting firms doing business with a city on a consulting study?

nocnoc
46992
Points
nocnoc 05/11/13 - 08:37 pm
9
1
Ronnie Strength

Augusta Richmond Co. do you miss him yet?

whyme
2070
Points
whyme 05/12/13 - 12:15 am
5
2
a few thoughts...

It is horrible what happened to this couple but I wonder why it has taken this case to lead to such a discussion in the media, in our workplaces, and in our homes with the hopes of improved safety, when if the conversation had occurred before, then maybe they would have never had to endure such a brutal attack. Maybe because those in charge thought it was safe;after all, there haven't been THAT many problems there. How many does it take before someone speaks up?

Another study? Seriously? What a waste of money. You need some outside agency to take thousands of dollars to tell you how to figure stuff out when as adults who are capable of running a business, you should be able to sit down, brainstorm, and then act. Don't waste time and money-nothing ever gets done in a timely manner that way.

I loved the comment that I heard on the radio the other day. Until the leadership puts aside their personal agendas and race vs race ways, Augusta is never going to grow like it should. Look at Savannah, Charlotte, and even North Augusta and Columbia County. Maybe they aren't perfect but they're doing something right while Augusta looks like a dying downtown area. I thought with the younger and hopefully open-minded group that was elected this last round, good things would be happening immediately but nope. Same old, same old.

Bulldog
1333
Points
Bulldog 05/12/13 - 07:12 am
4
0
Another study?

I am again amazed to hear that we have another "study" coming that will cost a huge sum. (I guess I need to become a bit more jaded...) Can these people not do their own job? Are they completely incompetent? Oh, wait! I see it now...

seenitB4
93470
Points
seenitB4 05/12/13 - 07:27 am
3
0
Sylvia this is true & so sad..

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.

seenitB4
93470
Points
seenitB4 05/12/13 - 07:31 am
2
0
And he said.....:)

“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.”

Ok Fennoy....we won't tell them if we see sharks in the water...happy now.

Riverman1
90289
Points
Riverman1 05/12/13 - 07:42 am
4
1
Congratulations to the RCSO

Congratulations to Sheriff Roundtree and the RCSO for the speedy capture of the two who committed the horrendous crime on the Riverwalk.

seenitB4
93470
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seenitB4 05/12/13 - 07:47 am
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ditto to that RM

Also...thanks to the donor of the $10,000.

Riverman1
90289
Points
Riverman1 05/12/13 - 07:48 am
6
0
Burn the Studies for Heat.

If you stacked up all the studies Richmond County has done that are sitting on a shelf and burned them for heat you could get the county buildings through the first couple of months of winter. When you run out of them, take newspaper articles where Margaret Woodward has said over the years that we are on the brink of greatness and burn them for the rest of the winter.

Riverman1
90289
Points
Riverman1 05/12/13 - 07:51 am
4
0
SeenIt, No Doubt

Law enforcement will tell you money always gets results when you need info about a crime. They eat each other alive. But it's not clear if the reward money was significant in this case.

seenitB4
93470
Points
seenitB4 05/12/13 - 07:55 am
2
0
Maybe & maybe not

But it's not clear if the reward money was significant in this case.

If it is though....I sincerely hope the person gets the reward.

seenitB4
93470
Points
seenitB4 05/12/13 - 07:57 am
3
0
When reward is put in play

It always shakes the bushes....& amazing things fall out sometimes..

Little Lamb
47897
Points
Little Lamb 05/12/13 - 08:20 am
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Brink

:-) That was a good one, RM.

Yes, we are on the brink of something around here.

Brad Owens
4859
Points
Brad Owens 05/12/13 - 11:21 am
5
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The DDA... will they ever learn?

Am I the only one that thinks doing a study on what downtown needs to help it grow "retail" is about the worst timing in the world for the DDA given the obvious need for safety and security to be the main focus?

Spending money on a study figuring out how to help another CABAL connected family fill up one of their empty buildings downtown with a big retail store is not what we need right now.

Let me give you the answer on retail expansion DDA, CUSTOMERS! People coming downtown and spending money causes retail growth, not some government funded study that will only have ideas that require MORE SPENDING of money we don't have. People with disposable income won't come downtown if they think they are going to have their brains bashed in by thugs, shot while walking down Broad Street, carjacked and assaulted.

The stats on how "safe" it is when compared to the Eastside of Chicago means NOTHING to suburbanites! The perception IS reality on this and there is no way fluff talk will trump that video of the ghetto melee where women were seen being beaten to the ground by several men or the horrific image of that young couple on a date getting their heads bashed in by baseball bat wielding thugs with dreadlock weaves.

I mean do we need to be spending any money on anything besides safety and security downtown right now? Seems to me that this money would be better spent putting more deputies on the beat downtown than hiring an out of town marketing company to produce a powerpoint slide show about attracting "retail" to the Central Business District.

I really do wonder how they continue to get away with wasting our money like this. It's depressing that we have so many obvious needs that are ignored.

Last week on facebook one very well respected business owner downtown said they should take the DDA's budget away and hire more bike cops. When I see things like this I think that is a good idea, how about we "study" that option?

The time for talking is over, we need action on the real issues facing downtown.

NEEDS before WANTS,

Brad

seenitB4
93470
Points
seenitB4 05/12/13 - 10:59 am
4
0
Stop it Brad

You are making too much sense.....can a study make you safe.....noooo don't think so.....the only way some of the commish will get the message is when it happens to THEM....just like the CNN anchor was attacked in Atlanta..THAT made news & that ruffled the Mayor's feathers.

gargoyle
19500
Points
gargoyle 05/12/13 - 11:24 am
1
0
Yes Bulldog,incompetentcy is the norm

We elect incompetent people and expect different results.Notice that very few canidates run on records anymore , most of the time they run away from them.For the most part the elected act like Rock Stars instead of statesmen. Sound bytes have become more important than competancy in the election process. Sadly cowtowing to the Media and Political Machines is the method to win a election instead of ability

seenitB4
93470
Points
seenitB4 05/12/13 - 12:51 pm
2
0
Just want the leaders to know this

I have talked to some female friends in the csra today & their husbands are wanting them to STAY OUT of downtown......
YOU might think this is a random act of violence but it speaks VOLUMES to the everyday person.....some are suggesting they change their hair stylist & NOT go downtown....
This will make an impact on business as usual....so just keep missing the boat with studies & looking the other way.

countyman
21283
Points
countyman 05/12/13 - 12:58 pm
1
2
Downtown= private construction everywhere

The crime stats of downtown can easily go up against any so called 'safe' area in the CSRA.

Whyme... How can you judge the entire area of Columbia County vs downtown?

When did North Augusta or Columbia County attract 100 IT jobs? Rural Sourcing moved into the Enterprise Mill.

The Holiday Inn Express, purchasing of the former WAGT building, Sprint Food & Metro Market, 901 Broad, renovation of 1246 Broad, new restaurant next to Farmhaus Burgers, etc are some of the developments downtown.

How is this considered looking like a dying downtown area?

You can't tell me the media doesn't affect the way people think. If they continue to only report the positives of the surrounding counties, and report the majority of negative things associated with Richmond County.

I also find it HILARIOUS how people try to make it seem Augusta has the race issues, the surrounding areas live in perfect harmony lol.. The last time I checked Augusta is the one with the white mayor, and North Augusta, Aiken, Columbia County don't have a black person at the top.

whyme
2070
Points
whyme 05/12/13 - 06:17 pm
1
0
further

You are welcome to pick apart my opinion if you feel so inclined, countryman. Just try to at least be considerate-that's the problem on this site. Not only do people take a posted article and make assumptions when so little is even presented, they do so with other folks' comments.

Nothing would make me happier than to see Augusta as growing and thriving as it deserves. I've been here for 25 years and know that in general, it is making progress. I gave the other areas as examples because, as I said, they are doing something right to make growth happen. If they weren't, and the city of Augusta was doing more, these areas may or may not be expanding and attracting the businesses and families that they are. Yay for the businesses that have moved to downtown but tourists aren't coming to Augusta to see a business, they want to see some attractions. (and I was referring not only to downtown but the whole Richmond County-Augusta area). Masters is great but it's just once a year. What else is going on to encourage people from outside to come to Augusta? Again, I compare it to the riverfront in Savannah and their tours around town. (no, I agree that Columbia County and N. Augusta don't have that either!)
And while it may not be a "dying downtown" to you, those residents who live in other parts of the area like South Augusta would be thrilled to see more happening to make their areas attractive; I've seen enough posts, both direct and anonymous, to know that they're not all appreciating growth. IHOP and Applebee's have been there a while now. What about some more stores and restaurants? Who is encouraging this? I work in this area so I feel sympathy for these folks.

As for race, I have engaged in enough conversations made up of racially diverse folks (even in my own family) and we wonder when it really is going to stop being an issue because we all believe differently. I don't think the media is making up the actual proceedings or votes of the commission when they have their meetings. You even hear them admitting it in the news! I could give a hoot what color is in, as long as things get done. But they're not and they need to.

As for the crime that took place at the Riverwalk, perhaps it was a fluke, a random act of violence, and it isn't so bad down there. But when someone you know and care about is treated so heinously as this young woman was, you don't want anyone to go through what she did. She has handled it with such class and I pray no one ever else has to.

KSL
139726
Points
KSL 05/12/13 - 06:55 pm
0
1
Countyman

Explain all of the empty storefronts on Broad St.

KSL
139726
Points
KSL 05/12/13 - 07:10 pm
0
1
I would love nothing more

I would love nothing more than Broad St and surrounds to become as vibrant as it was in the 70's when we first frequented there.

Please excuse my disgust with the politics and empire building that has prevented Augusta from enjoying the downtown SUSTAINED revitalization other cities have. I don't care if statistically it is safer than other cities countyman is comparing it to. Maybe that is because fewer people frequent on a day to day basis at night, so there are fewer targets. Maybe the thugs are in South Augusta because there are more potential innocent victims.

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