Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

City Ink: Augusta Commission members say 'slum' is not an indictment for downtown

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Life is filled with irony, is it not? City officials are paying consultants $6,000 a month to promote and “rebrand” the Laney Walker-Bethlehem revitalization district, but are willing to call downtown Augusta a “slum.”

Not to worry though. In this case, the word “slum” by any other name is “an area needing re-development,” according to Jim Plunkett, the city’s outside counsel who helped prepare the documents that could create an Urban Redevelopment Area downtown. And with that, the city would be eligible to issue $26.5 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds to complete renovations at the Marble Palace.

“It’s not an indictment of downtown Augusta,” Plunkett said. “It’s not a slum in the sense of what you think when you hear the word ‘slum.’ It’s an area that has buildings that need improvement. That’s what the statute requires you to say to create a URA.”

Attorneys and City Administrator Fred Russell looked for other ways to finance the renovations because slum is a “troubling word,” Plunkett said.

Some folks suspect there are ulterior motives for creating the district, and that it will allow downtown property owners to get their property fixed up for free. Plunkett, however said, “There’s no free money in this deal. There always has to be a revenue source to pay bond debt.”

It does, however, pave the way for the city to use various other redevelopment tools, according to Augusta Chronicle Staff Writer Susan McCord.

SHOOT THE MESSENGER: When McCord’s article about the documents the city’s Finance Committee will be asked to approve Monday was posted online, Mayor Deke Copenhaver, tweeted a critical review. But McCord just reported what the document stated repeatedly and described in detail.

That’s her job.

Commissioner Grady Smith said the word “slum” is not too far off.

“It’s sad to say, but if you ride the streets, you’ll see we would be a good candidate for that word,” he said.

Commissioner Marion Williams said he’s opposed to the slum designation.

“We’re known all over the world as the golf capital,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Jackson said, “I’m very skeptical. It’s a way to, maybe, spread more money around downtown.”

A PROPHET IN HIS HOMETOWN: Housing and Neighborhood Development Director Chester Wheeler was out of the country last week when his $2.5 million bridge loan request came before the commission. That didn’t stop Commissioner Alvin Mason from reading into the record-probing questions about the Laney-Walker redevelopment project and sending a copy to Wheeler to answer when he gets back.

Mason asked things such as how much Laney-Walker bond money has gone into the project and the total amount of bonds that would be issued during the life of the project, as well as the total estimated fees and interest for the bond issues.

“Where is the evidence of a 10-to-1 match of private investment dollars cited on your Web site?” he asked.

“I would also like the names provided and amounts and letters of commitment from our private entities that you say there’s a 10-to-1 match.”

He also asked what percentage of project money is being spent on administration, and whether any current or former city of Augusta employees or officials in principal are employed by a company to work on the project, and if so who are they?

“Let me address something else here,” he said. “As we look at this situation, I think it’s bigger than just these buildings. Zip code 30901. I’m sure you’re familiar with that, which includes Laney-Walker and Bethlehem, has just lost 25 percent of its population in the last 10 years.

“When I was chairman of the redistricting committee, there was over 5,500 folks in 30901 that are no longer in 30901. And it’s not white flight because all but 400 of them were African-American. So that wasn’t the issue.”

The city has identified 1,100 dilapidated and rundown buildings, and about 300 others in fair condition, he said.

“We’ve got 29-and-a half million dollars left. Even at $100,000 a house, you’re looking at 295 houses. That certainly does not address the issue of the loss of personnel and property … So I think it’s critical that we infuse this with private sector funds. .”

Isn’t that sort of what Dave Barbee predicted in his leaked e-mail to developer Braye Boardman that caused the mayor to ask him to resign from the Augusta Housing Authority a few years ago?

Barbee wrote something about the city becoming more white in the future and implored Boardman not to build $100,000 starter homes in the Sibley Mill area.

NO DOUBT ABOUT IT: City commissioners approved a new ethics ordinance last week that warns them to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest and other evil.

Before the vote, Commissioner Bill Lockett asked the attorney to see whether having accusations of commissioner misconduct put on commission agendas for debate would “hold water.”

“You know, if an accusation has been made and it’s put on an agenda, and this commissioner is found not to be guilty, forever and ever and ever it’s going to be in the back of people’s minds,” he said. “They’re going to say, ‘Yeah, he was guilty, I know.’ ”

Lockett also asked the attorney to look at the part of the ordinance calling for an investigator to gather facts and opinions for them to consider.

“I think we’re putting ourselves in a precarious position,” he said.

CURRENT EVENTS QUIZ

1. Calling Augusta a slum is:

a. The mayor’s and Chamber of Commerce’s worst nightmare.

b. Like calling a Hill matron a lady of the night.

c. Not too far-fetched.

d. Necessary to get the URA and the tax-free revenue bonds.

2. Asking probing questions about the Laney-Walker revitalization is:

a. Blasphemy

b. Racist

c. Sacred cow tipping.

d. Campaigning by a mayoral candidate.

3. The city’s new ethics ordinance is:

a. Not much different from the old one that everybody ignored.

b. Like locking the barn gate after the horse has been stolen.

c. A trap for future commissioners.

d. An exercise in grandstanding.

Answers: a, b, c or d to all.

A PRINCE IN THE RACE: Augusta native, Brian L. Prince will announce he’s running for the District 127 state House seat vacated by the recent death of Rep. Quincy Murphy.

The announcement
will be at 10 a.m. Monday
at the Augusta Judicial Center.

Prince, 49, retired from the U.S. Army at the rank of lieutenant colonel after 21 years of service.

Murphy’s widow, Dianne Murphy, announced her candidacy last week.

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Gage Creed
16785
Points
Gage Creed 09/07/13 - 08:07 pm
9
1
"Please Lord, don’t let

"Please Lord, don’t let Forbes magazine find out about the slum designation because it might jeopardize the city’s rankings as the fourth-best place to retire and the 23rd-strongest metro area in the nation."

Sounds like a sharp stick to the eye....

raul
4621
Points
raul 09/07/13 - 08:08 pm
10
0
I'm glad to here that Al

I'm glad to here that Al Mason is asking Wheeler those questions about Laney-Walker development, whether it's campaigning or not. Questions need to be asked. Something isn't right about that whole deal, IMO.

nocnoc
41344
Points
nocnoc 09/07/13 - 08:16 pm
7
1
Notice something?

Dist 8 Commissioner did not get INKED this week.

Once again the South Side is Dis'd by the AC.
☺☺☺☺☻☻☻☻
I am Happy for it also.

countyman
19731
Points
countyman 09/07/13 - 08:34 pm
3
13
Urban core

Dave Barbee said the urban core will become whiter, and many of the former public housing residents would relocate to Columbia County. Which makes perfect sense when you look at the trends across the US. There's not enough section 8 or public housing available in Richmond County to hold all of those residents.

Harrisburg and Laney Walker should experience the biggest demographic shifts by 2020. Sand Hills which is on the edge of being suburban is another place to watch.

The residential construction underway in the CBD, and the 4-5 story building coming to the Medical District is only the beginning.

raul
4621
Points
raul 09/07/13 - 08:39 pm
9
0
Slum designation and property taxes?

If downtown is given a slum designation, would that not lower property values? And the follow on would be lower property taxes, right? Or is the idea to maintain the property tax, as is, even though your property is now in a slum area?

raul
4621
Points
raul 09/07/13 - 08:39 pm
7
0
Gage Creed
16785
Points
Gage Creed 09/07/13 - 08:42 pm
10
1
I can't believe what I just

I can't believe what I just read... SMH

There is not enough public housing in RC... so those displaced residents will move to CC... then the established CC residents will move to the Urban Core.... REALLY?

dichotomy
32128
Points
dichotomy 09/07/13 - 08:56 pm
12
0
"“There’s no free money in

"“There’s no free money in this deal. There always has to be a revenue source to pay bond debt.”

Revenue stream.......Yep....That's you SOUTHEAST RICHMOND COUNTY. A revenue stream. They TAKE your taxes and fees and spend it all paying back bonds plus interest for borrowed money they've BLOWN on DOWNTOWN projects, giving you little or nothing back in your Section....errr....District 8.......and MOSTLY making wealthy people more wealthy with OUR money.

dichotomy
32128
Points
dichotomy 09/07/13 - 09:10 pm
9
0
"Dave Barbee said the urban

"Dave Barbee said the urban core will become whiter, and many of the former public housing residents would relocate to Columbia County."

Well, he probably got PART of that right. The urban core will become whiter but it will be because the "City" is using Section 8 and HUD money to relocate the undesirables to South Augusta and Southeast Richmond County.

AutumnLeaves
7143
Points
AutumnLeaves 09/07/13 - 09:17 pm
11
0
I don't care if the urban

I don't care if the urban core is whiter or other, I just want to feel safe if I have to go downtown. For that matter, I want to feel safe enough not to have to walk with a big stick, a pitbull and carry in my own neighborhood on the south side of Augusta. The undesirables (and I don't care where they came from) are already here and they break into your house no matter what your race is or theirs is, for that matter. As a matter of fact, more blacks homes have been broken into than whites on our block.

Lori Davis
905
Points
Lori Davis 09/07/13 - 09:44 pm
9
0
Harrisburg was declared a

Harrisburg was declared a slum in 2010 to get the state designation; Opportunity Zone. All was done without a public hearing and with a falsified application to the Department of Community Affairs. This was done all the while I was serving on a committee with George Patty to try and bring a Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance to Richmond County. The application to the DCA said that Mr. Patty got his stats from, "A privately funded study." This study does not exist. I will concede that Harrisburg quite possibly deserves this designation, however, skirting the law, or quite frankly, breaking it, to get this done should be investigated as well. I see there is no mention of Harrisburg in the article. Explanation, Mr. Ryan? Harrisburg was voted on by the Commission the same day as Laney Walker-Bethlehem. I guess the city knows that a few middle class folks in Harrisburg could never afford an attorney to challenge the city and Mr. Patty on this one. Don't be so sure.

countyman
19731
Points
countyman 09/07/13 - 10:00 pm
5
13
Gilbert Manor and Underwood

Gilbert Manor and Underwood Homes have been demolished. The Cherry Tree complex is the next one to go. There's not enough public housing to go around, and obviously some residents will accept section 8 vouchers.

The residents in Columbia County will move further out into CC or into Wilkes/McDuffie counties when certain areas experience too much minority growth.

corgimom
31462
Points
corgimom 09/07/13 - 10:17 pm
13
2
There is PLENTY of Section 8

There is PLENTY of Section 8 housing in RC. Because any landlord can get his property rented under Section 8 if the property meets HUD guidelines (or whatever HUD is being called these days).

So for Countyman to say "there isn't enough"- any place can have Section 8 housing, it doesn't have to be a housing project.

The neighborhood across from me has so many Section 8 renters that it's nickname is "The Section".

Dixieman
14425
Points
Dixieman 09/07/13 - 10:23 pm
8
0
If someone will give me that kind of money...

...I will declare my house a slum!
(Actually, I have a pretty fair start on this designation as a quick glance at my teenager's bedroom will disclose!)

KSL
126830
Points
KSL 09/07/13 - 11:32 pm
6
2
What a bunch of crooks!

What a bunch of crooks!

countyman
19731
Points
countyman 09/07/13 - 11:54 pm
3
10
Section 8

Corgimom... The neighborhood you live in is located in Charlotte, and not the city of Augusta.

''How do I get a Voucher? AHA is NOT accepting new applications for Section 8 Assistance. We have a limited number of vouchers and cannot accommodate more clients at this time.''
http://www.augustapha.org/S8Tenant.aspx

Please explain why the Section 8 voucher program already has an waiting list, and their not accepting new applications?

The new subdivisions and the upper middle class/middle class neighborhoods are out of the question. The only neighborhoods who can offer multiple section 8 would be the working class/lower middle class areas.

I guess somebody thinks Dave Barbee decided to mention Columbia County for no reason. The must also think the current people living on Section 8 in Richmond County will somehow magically disappear. Then make room for all of the new people who are trying get the section 8 vouchers.

oldredneckman96
5067
Points
oldredneckman96 09/08/13 - 02:14 am
13
0
Slum
Unpublished

I am currently in Trinidad on a short project and it looks a lot like many parts of Augusta and for the same reasons.

seenitB4
85748
Points
seenitB4 09/08/13 - 04:57 am
9
1
Is Greyhound ready ...countyman

I almost get the feeling that some have Greyhound lined up & ready to transport section 8 to another county.....I must be dreaming though....but when I read the comments, I sense it is a done deal..

"I guess somebody thinks Dave Barbee decided to mention Columbia County for no reason"-----yep that must be the plan.

seenitB4
85748
Points
seenitB4 09/08/13 - 05:25 am
10
1
Let's dissect this --why don't we..

"The only neighborhoods who can offer multiple section 8 would be the working class/lower middle class areas."

This means that a voucher would plop a family of lower means into an area of hard working low/mid income families....tax payers btw...struggling to pay their bills & educate their children.....maybe their house payments are $900.00 a month & then out of the blue sky comes a neighbor paying 1/2 of that...do you see a reason for resentment......does it ever work....I would like to see the results of THAT study.

nocnoc
41344
Points
nocnoc 09/08/13 - 08:10 am
7
3
Question

Why are Democrats, Socialists & Liberals against School Vouchers,
but are OK for Section 8 Vouchers?

Riverman1
82436
Points
Riverman1 09/08/13 - 09:41 am
7
2
Dave Barbee?

We're now using Dave Barbee as an authority on county demographics? Copenhaver had him fired for what he said and thoroughly disavowed his comments along with most other public officials. Interesting that a downtown advocate would now quote him.

nocnoc
41344
Points
nocnoc 09/08/13 - 08:22 am
7
0
OPEN REQUEST to any AC Reporter

How about publishing a list of the biggest Section 8 owners in ARC.
and how much income they rake in from the taxpayers?

I understand 1 such Slum/Section 8 Lord has between 43 & 48 units, his units even get fast tracked ahead of others.

If anything, such and article would put to rest the Secrecy to Section 8 rentals in ARC.

A 10,000 foot (NOT Street level) map of where the Section 8 rentals would be nice also.

Riverman1
82436
Points
Riverman1 09/08/13 - 09:24 am
11
1
Laney Walker Insanity

When do these misguided attempts to rejuvenate Laney Walker finally come to an end? We employ people to plan, administer and promote the area along with highly paid consultants. The result so far has been a pathetic 20 houses have been built in an area that’s so bad we pay $6,000 a month to try to make the public believe it’s better than it is.

Some talk of attracting whites back to the area, but not a single house has been sold to whites. Indeed, Alvin Mason points out blacks have also left the area in large numbers. Yet, we have millions committed to the area over the next 50 years.

When does the insanity stop and the county cuts its losses? That money could actually have a positive impact in many parts of the county, but we continue to throw it down a hole. Accurate perceptions of how bad things are down there are impossible for a public relations firm to change no matter how much you pay them.

Discussionstarter
478
Points
Discussionstarter 09/08/13 - 09:49 am
9
0
Something does not sound ethical

Saying you are a slum, when you are not.... does not sound ethical nor legal.

Riverman1
82436
Points
Riverman1 09/08/13 - 10:04 am
8
1
It's The Duplicity

Frankly, I have no doubt downtown officially qualifies as a slum. Susan McCord laid out the requirements and pointed out how it qualifies perfectly. But I also see the duplicity of the officials, as Sylvia noted, paying for PR manipulation for Laney Walker and at the same time going after the slum money.

Little Lamb
45353
Points
Little Lamb 09/08/13 - 10:24 am
10
0
Falsity

The whole idea of the urban redevelopment bonds was to improve slum areas in order to improve the circumstances and lives of poor people living there. Here in Augusta, we fill out the paperwork to be able to issue the bonds under the redevelopment banner, but all the money is going to renovate the Marble Palace. How is that going to improve the lives of poor people?

Well, I guess if you are celebrating the entitlement mentality; if you are trying to enroll as many people as you can on government subsidies; if you are trying to make as many people dependent on government as you can, you can make the case that an improved city hall in the middle of a class of people completely dependent on government is helping them.

Yeah, helping them to stay on the plantation.

Lori Davis
905
Points
Lori Davis 09/08/13 - 10:51 am
8
0
Sylvis'a headline....

...is correct. It is NOT an indictment of downtown....It's an indictment of those currently in office who have gotten us into this position in the first place.

GnipGnop
11902
Points
GnipGnop 09/08/13 - 10:55 am
5
0
It will never stop

as long as people in power get their pockets lined!

countyman
19731
Points
countyman 09/08/13 - 11:23 am
2
6
The Laney Walker development

The Laney Walker development continues to attract national attention(Harvard), because middle class residents are moving in... The land acquisition, and demolishing of properties is required in order to move the development forward. It's only a matter of time before the Medical District brings additional growth to Laney Walker. The development continues to bring in additional tax base, and help lower the crime rate.

WRDW ran a great article on the success of the TEE Center..
http://www.wrdw.com/home/headlines/Would-you-call-Augustas-Convention-Ce...
This is another reason why the Holiday Inn Express is under construction on Broad, and the TEE Center doesn't need a YMCA to prop it up.

I think somebody might need to ride down Washington rd between Pleasant Home/Club Car in Martinez.... Once you get to Bobby Jones it does gets a little better.

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