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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Riverman1
79774
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Riverman1 09/08/13 - 11:18 am
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Once Far Enough From Richmond County

Well, once you get far enough from Richmond County toward Evans, things get much better down Washington Rd. if that's the way you want to look at things.

Hey, for $6000 a month in PR costs, I'm not surprised Laney Walker bought a few kudos.

The fact is the occupancy rate for the TEE Center is abysmal by any measuring standard. It may not need a YMCA to prop it up because it has the tax money of Richmond County to spend a fortune trying to keep it running with maintenance and management fees.

By the way, the WRDW story notes some events, if not all, the events have been here before using other facilities presumably. So it's not accurate to say the TEE is responsible for their coming. Barry White said the TEE is responsible 80,000 people coming. I'll give him a break and won't imply he means only in September, but I'll tell you he's so far out to lunch with the 80,000 people he's eating Asian food.

countyman
19174
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countyman 09/08/13 - 11:34 am
2
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Can't spin this one!!!!!!

The hotel/motel tax is paying for the development, and the most expensive hotels are located downtown. The others hotels are located in West Augusta. The people who live 15-25 miles from the downtown/urban core, and hardly ever leave their suburban cul de sacs. They always portray they know the truth about the inner city, but they really don't.

Laney Walker is definitely not the real downtown, but still an great article..
http://www.wjbf.com/story/23329296/historic-neighborhood-redevelopment-l...
''When Chris Norman and his wife decided to plant their roots, downtown Augusta wasn't on their list of desired grounds. "Actually, we thought about building elsewhere, but once we did the walk-in with the realtor...from that point on, it was a no-brainer this is the place I want to be," he says. The Normans have become part of a wave of new homeowners flowing into the Laney Walker and Bethlehem neighbors as part of the city's revitalization effort.

But, homeowner Frederick Neely says it's an investment that will pay for itself many times over. "That's all it is, is a start for others to pick up and see that people are buying these houses. There is a demand to live downtown and then once the private industry comes and sees that, they pick where they left off then they can turn a profit on it," he says.

For people who live in the area, the loan would help continue construction that is bringing life to an area that had been left for dead. "If you're down here on a Sunday evening, there are people just driving slowly looking at houses, pointing, and stopping. They want to know, "is this Pine Street? The old Pine Street?' I'm like, "yes, ma'am. This is the old Pine Street, but it's the new Pine Street," Norman says.

Riverman1
79774
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Riverman1 09/08/13 - 12:34 pm
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I viewed the WJBF story about

I viewed the WJBF story about Chris Norman and his wife moving in. Smile.

By the way, the hotel tax is supposed to support the areas around the hotels drawing the guests. That money belongs to the people of the county. Why is it being spent on Laney Walker? Oh, wait a second, I know why....The Bribe.

countyman
19174
Points
countyman 09/08/13 - 11:32 am
2
6
The area of Washington road

The area of Washington road in Richmond County is getting a Whole Foods, Texas Roadhouse, commercial development in front of Kroger, etc. The recent construction includes the $20 million Sheraton and mult million Holiday Inn Express for example.

The Martinez part of Washington rd is so bad you had to mention Evans to help out your case. I have nothing against Martinez, but your comments towards downtown get old.. Downtown Augusta had the Border Bash and Market on the River this weekend. The Arts in the Heart and ESI Ironman are both taking place this month also.

Please provide the source to show the TEE center occupancy rate is abysmal? What cities are your measuring stick?

The TEE Center is brining new people into Augusta to spend money at the hotels, restaurants, etc. The TEE Center is responsible for attracting major private growth, and the $8 million Holiday Inn Express is one example..

Please name the last hotel project downtown before the TEE Center opened? The hotel on the common should finally becoming to fruition soon also.

Riverman1
79774
Points
Riverman1 09/08/13 - 02:39 pm
7
1
Actually, the worst area is better than

Actually, the worst area of Washington Rd. in Columbia County beats downtown Augusta...honestly. K-mart moved out of that shopping center, but Carolina Pottery is doing well there. I don't know of any empty buildings in that area.

For convention centers under 200,000 sq. ft. the average occupancy rate is 42.8 percent(Price Waterhouse 2011). Most of the events coming to Augusta have been here before. Some are so tiny it's hilarious they use the big building. Remember the "Tattoo Festival?"

Hotels have been springing up all over the county. Saying the TEE is responsible for the renovating of a previously closed hotel is suspect.

countyman
19174
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countyman 09/08/13 - 12:09 pm
2
6
Columbia County leaders declare Martinez 'slum'

The area of Washington road in Columbia County is a 'slum' according to the leaders of Columbia County. The Chronicle and the other media outlets don't want the public to know, but it's an opportunity zone. There's definitely some empty buildings in that area of Martinez..

Carolina Pottery versus the Holiday Inn Express, Farmhaus Burgers, Whiskey Bar Kitchen, Augusta Lung Associates, Craft & Vine, Sprint Foods Metro Market, etc on Broad downtown?

Hotels aren't popping up all over the county either... Downtown, West Augusta, and South Augusta near I-520. I'm positive both North Richmond and the Medical District will both attract hotels in the future.

Riverman1
79774
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Riverman1 09/08/13 - 12:18 pm
6
1
Many Hotels Have Been Built in the County

In the last decade hotels have been built around I-20, Washington Rd. at an astronomical rate. There have also been some built at Gordon Hwy, Bobby Jones with one more being built now. They all give the hotel tax to the city.

But I'm going to say something positive about the TEE. I fought as hard as anyone to keep all that money from being spent on what I knew was likely to be a losing situation. Dr. Heywood Sanders, the convention center expert, told us. Once it was built, there's nothing we can do but hope it does well.

I sincerely hope it does and all that money is not wasted. Previously, I brought up the way to bring in events was working with the military and medical community. They can both bring in huge numbers to small towns due to the particular entity, the fort and the med. school.

Interesting, one yearly conference I attend put on by GRU that attracts about 500 people moved two years ago from Augusta to Braselton, Ga at the Chateau Elan. What's up with that? A local institution putting on events 150 miles up the road.

seenitB4
81891
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seenitB4 09/08/13 - 12:28 pm
5
2
Don't knock Chateau Elan ...:)

Why not just say the whole state of Ga is a slum & move on.....after all Honey BooBoo is from GA.....south of Millegeville ga on hy 441...but but...they are making thousands on each episode. Go figure!

Riverman1
79774
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Riverman1 09/08/13 - 03:14 pm
6
1
Columbia County area designated slum zone

About the portion of Columbia County designated as a slum zone. Countyman, you are correct that the area around Carolina Pottery (the old K-mart shopping center) that includes the shopping center on the other side of Washington Rd has been designated a slum area. The slum designation requires at least a 15% poverty rate and there's a very poor (white) neighborhood behind the old K-mart shopping center. That's how they did it.

Understand the income level of Columbia County residents is much greater than those of Richmond County. Apparently almost the entire downtown Augusta area meets the 15% poverty rate and can be classified as a slum. I hope this clears things up.

countyman
19174
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countyman 09/08/13 - 01:12 pm
2
7
Columbia County has more than

Columbia County has more than one 'slum' zone...

Riverman1
79774
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Riverman1 09/08/13 - 02:22 pm
4
2
Missing the Point

Countyman, I think you are missing the point. Pockets of slum areas have been designated in more than a few Georgia counties. What's unusual is almost the ENTIRE downtown area of a large city to be designated one. But if you meet the criteria, who am I to stop you? Maybe the downtown population with singles and GLBT populations with bars open to 5 am as you support just has a different income norm?

Little Lamb
44029
Points
Little Lamb 09/08/13 - 02:31 pm
2
0
Riverman1 posted:

Interesting, one yearly conference I attend put on by GRU that attracts about 500 people moved two years ago from Augusta to Braselton, Ga at the Chateau Elan. What's up with that? A local institution putting on events 150 miles up the road.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Well, RM, it will all even out. The Braselton Ladies Garden Club will hold their next convention in the TEE Center. Everyone wants to go to a convention somewhere else.

Riverman1
79774
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Riverman1 09/08/13 - 02:48 pm
4
0
Conference in Your Home City

LL, I bet the garden club will have a swinging time in Augusta. I understand the desire to get out of town and have been to Hilton Head a few times for conferences given by private Duke University. But for a public institution to have a 3 day conference, it would seem they would keep it in their home city. GRU is a state school, I realize, but it receives much support locally. Should Ft. Gordon also move their conference to the mountains or the coast? I don't think so.

kissofdeath
397
Points
kissofdeath 09/08/13 - 02:58 pm
3
4
Dear editor you can have printed another article.

White Dallas Man Shoots 8- yr- old Black Boy Playing Outside.
Dallas police said that Donald maiden Jr., who had just celebrated his 8th birthday on Sunday,was shot in the face on Tues while playing tag outside his apartment complex. So much hate in the world, the black boy is struggling to recover at a Texas hospital after a 46- yr- old white man Brian Cloninger shot him in the face just cause the colored of his skin. According to his grandmother, Maiden ran inside to get some toys and was shot as came back outside. Police reports said that Cloninger wa seen standing besides his pickup truck as the boy was bleeding, and a witness asked him if he shot the boy. Yes, I shot that kid, "Cloninger reportedly. Why Augusta Chronicle never printed this article remains a ?

KSL
122248
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KSL 09/08/13 - 03:22 pm
2
2
What does that have to do

What does that have to do with this article?

Gage Creed
15819
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Gage Creed 09/08/13 - 04:28 pm
4
1
Do some peoples PC's get

Do some peoples PC's get grammatically confused when they copy and paste from the Democratic Underground?

countyman
19174
Points
countyman 09/08/13 - 04:46 pm
1
7
Dekalb County

Dekalb County just designated a very large portion of the county a 'slum'(unincorporated Dekalb).

Gage Creed
15819
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Gage Creed 09/08/13 - 04:58 pm
6
0
>Insert comment about jumping

>Insert comment about jumping from a bridge here<

Riverman1
79774
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Riverman1 09/08/13 - 05:42 pm
5
0
DeKalb County

DeKalb County and Richmond County remind me a lot of each other. Of course, Dekalb is much bigger, but the demographics of income and racial make-up are similar. They avoid the deadlock Augusta commissioners often have with a 7 member commission. 4 blacks and 3 whites. They did declare a large portion of the unincorporated county a slum, as Augusta seeks to do with the downtown area. Many of the residents were not happy with the designation. Not much anyone can do if an area meets the poverty requirements and local government desires to go that route.

Augustaisdying
528
Points
Augustaisdying 09/08/13 - 05:41 pm
0
0
I Know Who Countyman Is
Unpublished

But, don't worry, Sean, I won't tell. However, I will say this: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! What a joke!

Riverman1
79774
Points
Riverman1 09/08/13 - 06:26 pm
4
0
Brick Through Your Window

Countyman said, “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.”

I think somebody might need to ride down Broad St or any other street downtown. It doesn’t get any better any direction you go. Eventually you will get a brick thrown through your window.

Conservative Man
5305
Points
Conservative Man 09/08/13 - 06:46 pm
4
0
Bottom line....

...after all the semantic machinations, the powers that be in RC are complicit in helping to make the county eligible for "slum" status.

Now they are wanting to capitalize on their lack of attention to detail by taking advantage of this designation....

Sorry...No amount of spin by "countypeople" will change this reality..

mike71345
75
Points
mike71345 09/09/13 - 08:01 pm
0
0
Designate downtown a local historic district, not a slum.

Professional preservationists assure us that renovation and restoration are always cheaper and more profitable than new construction. See here for an example–
http://issuu.com/georgiashpo/docs/good_news_in_tough_times_?e=2602600/28...
Has anyone considered making the downtown area a "local historic district" in which deterioration would be forbidden by law, proper maintenance would be assured, all changes would be regulated by committee to ensure they respect the historic integrity of the district, and tourists would be drawn to spend their money in a vibrant, revitalized area?

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