Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Augusta Housing's public-private match fails to materialize

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When Augusta’s Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler asked the Augusta Commission to approve a $2.5 million loan to keep the Laney Walker/Bethlehem revitalization project going last month, folks started asking questions – the main one being, “Where did the $8 million in bond money that was supposed to last until 2015 go?”

Wheeler said he’d built 18 houses, bought 275 lots and demolished 97 dilapidated properties, which raised a lot of other questions, especially from Commissioner Alvin Mason who asked for evidence of the 10-to-1 match of private to public investment dollars cited on the Laney Walker/Bethlehem Web site.

Turns out, the 10-to-1 match is “a long-term aspirational goal,” which might have been dreamed up by the PR firm Wheeler’s paying $6,000 a month to promote the project. Mason didn’t buy the aspirational thing and replied to Wheeler’s written response by stating the 10-to-1 match was not identified as an “aspirational goal” on the Web site but as a fact.

“If he has spent $8 million so far, the private match to date should be $80 million,” Mason said. “If it’s more like 7-to-1 as he stated; then the private money should be $56 million to date. His accounting shows $11 million, and actually only $6 million when you break out the Housing Authority which is public, not private money. So five years and $8 million into the project it appears we have less than a 1-to-1 match.”

When you really stop to think about it, that claim of a 10-to-1 match was quite an exaggeration. The public sector will pay $37.5 million in hotel-motel taxes at the rate of $750,000 a year for 50 years although there’s a contradiction to that in the intergovernmental agreement between the city and the Urban Renewal Agency. It states that all activities related to the program will end in 30 years.

WHAT DID HE KNOW AND WHEN DID HE KNOW IT? The 10-to-1 match business and the sudden diminution of urgency for the $2.5 million loan raised a lot of other questions which Wheeler answered during a commission committee meeting last week. The main thing they wanted to know was why they were told last month the loan was essential to keep the project going, but that has since changed. Wheeler said he’d learned later he would receive $770,000 from the sale of city property at the end of October.

Early in the meeting, Mason proposed that Administrator Fred Russell assemble a team of experts on urban redevelopment from other cities to review the overall project. And before the commission committee voted to approve that proposal, Wheeler asked them to do it soon.

A CRYSTAL BALL REPORT ON LANEY WALKER/BETHLEHEM REVITALIZATION: Submitted Sept. 29, 2013 by City Ink:

“Honorable Mayor Deke Copenhaver and commissioners, we the Review Panel of Urban Development Experts with impressive titles after our names, have reviewed the Laney Walker/Bethlehem revitalization project over a two-day period, reviewed financial records, interviewed Administrator Fred Russell, Director Chester Wheeler, contractors, numerous consultants and we have unanimously concluded that Mr. Wheeler has done a splendid job with the funds he’s had to work with which brings me to our unanimous recommendation: He needs more funds.

“Thirty-seven-and-a-half million dollars is not a drop in the bucket when it comes to a project like this. He needs $37.5 billion. With that he can transform the entire Laney Walker area and move on to revitalize downtown Augusta which, as you know since you did it, could be designated a slum.

“The potential of what Mr. Wheeler can do is limited only by the number of letters in the alphabet to which you can attach the word “SPLOST.” Start with R-SPLOST for revitalization then move on to S-SPLOST for Streetscapes. You’ve already got a T-SPLOST. So skip that and go on to U-SPLOST for urban, and so on. After you’ve passed a Z-SPLOST – and I know you can do it by subtle threats of raising property taxes – you can start all over again with an A-SPLOST.

If you have any further questions, our e-mail address is whatever you want us to say@weaimtoplease.org.

IT’S GOOD TO BE CHIEF JUDGE: Various officers of the court presented their 2014 budget requests to city commissioners last week. Among them was William D. Jennings III, the chief judge of Richmond County Civil and Magistrate Court, who never fails to entertain.

“As chief judge of civil court, I am the chief judge of a court that few people know about,” he said. “Being an unknown court, it’s not even listed on the wall in the entrance hall of the Judicial Center as I recall. It’s one of those things that happens. It exists nonetheless. But nonetheless it does a lot of work.

“As far as my numbers, it might be illustrative and very small compared to some of the numbers you’ve seen. Two telephone lines, $390. Letterheads and envelopes, $200, but actually I go downstairs to the clerk’s office and steal her envelopes.”

“Judge, you just admitted to a crime,” said Commissioner Donnie Smith.

“But since my court issues the warrants, I think I’m OK,” Jennings replied, continuing to read his budget request. “Five hundred forty-six dollars to cover the state Bar dues; $1,200 for mandatory education. This is another crime. Cost of $100 for pens and paper clips. Usually, I go downstairs and take the clerk’s pens and paper clips. Miscellaneous, $200. Again I usually go downstairs and … ”

When Jennings finished his presentation, Russell said he’d taken donations and presented him some office supplies.

CHASING BIRDS ON RAINBOW BRIDGE: When commissioners voted to continue an agreement between the city and the University of Georgia Research Foundation Inc. Savannah River Ecology Laboratory for research and data collection of bird activity around the constructed wetlands, I was reminded of the Border Collie the Bush Field Airport committee bought in 2000 to keep the birds off airport runways. They paid $15,000 for her, named her Mayday and appointed Tina Rhodes as wildlife agent to work with her. I was curious about what happened to Mayday, so I tracked Rhodes down at the airport where she now works as a receptionist. She said Mayday died in October, three years ago, at the age of 14. She’d had a benign growth removed and then developed arthritis and became hard of hearing.

“I brought her out here until the end,” Rhodes said. “She couldn’t work anymore because she couldn’t hear my whistle.”

Then Mayday stopped eating, and one morning she didn’t want to get up.

HE’S WINNING BECAUSE HE’S LOSING: Congratulations to former Augusta Commissioner Jerry Brigham who is now only two-thirds the man he used to be. He lost 80 pounds the past year on a low carbohydrate diet and then he lost another 56 pounds during a surgical procedure.

Jerry is recuperating at home and plans to continue being a big loser in a good way.

Comments (40) Add comment
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Gage Creed
19410
Points
Gage Creed 09/28/13 - 09:43 pm
5
1
Sylvia must not be reading

Sylvia must not be reading countyman's posts... you know he's going to go postal... telling us all about the bio-tech park, GRU dorms, and Cookout.... well not really Cookout.

I think countyman is expecting company... he keeps talking about the Gentry's moving in to the neighborhood.

Does anyone know if Mr. J's Famous Door got relocated after the building was demo'ed?

tgentry
277
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tgentry 09/28/13 - 10:33 pm
9
0
Gentry's moving in to the neighborhood.

I already moved into the neighborhood. Now I'm looking to move out.

countyman
21638
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countyman 09/28/13 - 10:33 pm
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13
Future is bright

The leaders of different cities from across the US will be visiting Augusta over the next few years, because of this development. Families have even moved into the new homes built. I don't really have a problem with anything in the article except for the downplaying of the $6 million private investment.

Two neighborhoods that were left to decay for multiple decades attracting $6 million(excluding the Twiggs Circle development) should be considered a HUGE deal. Especially considering the size of Augusta, and not to mention were behind Savannah/Charleston/Greenville in terms of urban living.

Laney Walker is located right next to the CBD and the Medical District... The Medical District is pretty much built up, and Laney Walker will benefit from the spillover. A developer is building a new mid rise building in the Medical District, and Laney Walker will attract something in the future. The widening of 15th street, Walmart market center, Cancer Center, Cherry Tree redevelopment, Richmond County master plan, etc all make the area even more attractive.
http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/business/local-business/2013-08-05/apa...

countyman
21638
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countyman 09/28/13 - 10:45 pm
2
14
Augusta moving ahead

Gage Creed. Why do you guys always want to make everything about me? Let's hear directly from the people on the ground themselves.

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.
http://www.wjbf.com/story/23329296/historic-neighborhood-redevelopment-l...

rebellious
21882
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rebellious 09/28/13 - 10:56 pm
7
0
It's Like

the Cancer patient, when the Oncologist tells him "Only God knows when you will die"!. You have hope, but you know the inevitable. You have the positive people who want to tell you everything is gonna be OK. Then the negative people who ask you how long you have. But you know the score. And you smile, but you know. Anything short a miracle means the clock will stop. The guy with that Siclye (sp?) will be grinning at you, and then , It's over. Dirt Nap, pushing up daisies, game over.

Bled to death bythe parasites you supported.

Chester Wheeler, et al......

Riverman1
93859
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Riverman1 09/29/13 - 04:13 am
15
1
Call Me Ishmael

"His accounting shows $11 million, and actually only $6 million when you break out the Housing Authority which is public, not private money."

Didn't the public Housing Authority pay $770,000 for property in the project, also? That's coming out of the same pocket. The point is this whale has been fed on lies and deceit with the 10 to 1 investment line being spouted locally and across the nation by Deke, Wheeler and a public relations firm that's paid $6,000 a month. It's time to stuff the Laney-Walker sewage in the spouting blowhole, harpoon it and let this whale sink into the depths. Moby Deceit.

Riverman1
93859
Points
Riverman1 09/29/13 - 04:13 am
19
0
A Small True City

Countyman said, “Especially considering the size of Augusta, and not to mention were behind Savannah/Charleston/Greenville in terms of urban living.”

Please think about this. The Augusta urban area, the old city, has a population of only 44,000. Comparing it to Savannah/Charleston/Greenville is not a good comparison. They have much larger urban areas and are not consolidated city-counties. They are urban cities. For them to spend more in their urban areas makes perfect sense, but when a consolidated county pours mega sums into a tiny urban area of 44,000, dissatisfaction of the other 156,000 county residents is natural.

Little Lamb
49130
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Little Lamb 09/29/13 - 05:28 am
10
0
Too Much

You're making too much sense, RM.

justthefacts
25078
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justthefacts 09/29/13 - 06:06 am
5
0
Expensive dog

The golf course I belong to paid $5K for a dog to chase the dang Canadian geese off the course. Doesn't work.

harley_52
25920
Points
harley_52 09/29/13 - 06:33 am
7
1
"The golf course I belong to paid $5K for a dog....

....to chase the dang Canadian geese off the course. Doesn't work."

Fort Gordon spent about the same amount for their goose dog (Mitzi) about five years ago. She was a Border Collie. Mitzi did a pretty good job with the geese, but was bitten by a cottonmouth, which cost another $3K.

Mitzi survived, but figured out as a civil service worker it wasn't necessary to work holidays, weekends, or all that hard during the week. Last time I checked, the $8K goose dog was happy with her job security and free time. The geese enjoy her laid back attitude.

justthefacts
25078
Points
justthefacts 09/29/13 - 06:45 am
4
0
@harley

LOL. The geese here figured out that they could fly faster from the 7th hole over to the 13th hole than the dog could run over.
Now, he mostly just rides around in the Super's golf cart. Good work if you can get it.

harley_52
25920
Points
harley_52 09/29/13 - 06:47 am
0
8
"Please think about this. The Augusta urban area....

....the old city, has a population of only 44,000. Comparing it to Savannah/Charleston/Greenville is not a good comparison. They have much larger urban areas and are not consolidated city-counties. They are urban cities."a

I'm sure it's just me, but I think you're confusing the issue.

Does "Augusta" (the old city with a population of 44K) still exist? I thought it drifted off into history when the governments were consolidated and that now "Augusta" actually means "Augusta-Richmond County." Am I confused, or are you?

Comparing "Augusta" (in the present-day sense) to "Savannah/Charleston/Greenville" seems to me to be a perfectly valid endeavor.

Where am I going wrong?

seenitB4
97781
Points
seenitB4 09/29/13 - 07:31 am
2
0
Nice post Rebel

"And you smile, but you know. Anything short a miracle means the clock will stop. The guy with that Siclye (sp?) will be grinning at you, and then , It's over. Dirt Nap, pushing up daisies, game over."

I get it..

seenitB4
97781
Points
seenitB4 09/29/13 - 08:00 am
4
0
To this statement

"the loan would help continue construction that is bringing life to an area that had been left for dead."

Amazing logic.....I think many south of the Gordon Hy can relate...

southern2
7833
Points
southern2 09/29/13 - 08:47 am
4
0
Continued success to Jerry

Continued success to Jerry Brigham. Very impressive report!

countyman
21638
Points
countyman 09/29/13 - 08:51 am
1
10
Riverman. Can you get your

Riverman. Can you get your facts in order before commenting? The urban population of Augusta is larger than Savannah. The city limits of Greenville is only 60k, and the county is over 400,000 people. The leaders of Greenville realize the vibrant urban core will only help the rest of the plus 340,000 living there.

There's more than 200,000 living in Richmond County.

Riverman1
93859
Points
Riverman1 09/29/13 - 09:32 am
8
2
44K and 156K

Hey Guys, I very clearly gave a total of 200,000 for the county. 44K plus 156K. The population of the old city was 44,000 and the population hasn't changed much either way. Possibly it has even lost people according to Alvin Mason. Greenville, SC does had a city population of 60,000 and that's the smallest one of those cities mentioned, but that's still almost 50% bigger than the old city of Augusta. The other cities are much, much bigger. The people living in the urban area, with few exceptions, pay for what is spent.

Harley mentioned Augusta-Richmond County is now a consolidated and of course that's true. But the problem is, and this is key, a large amount of the outlying county tax money is moved into the old city area at the expense of the county. In the other cities their outlying counties don't send nearly as much to the city because they are not part of that government. Consolidation makes it legally possible as long as the commission votes are there to continue sending funds such as $37 million, plus who knows how much, into tiny Laney-Walker.

It's just as the late Mayor Charles DeVaney said, in a moment of candor, after consolidation that saved the old city from default. He said if Augusta was the chief city of this large metro area it needed the entire county to help pay the bills. How true that is.

harley_52
25920
Points
harley_52 09/29/13 - 09:58 am
0
9
The Point Is, Riverman....

....the "old city" no longer exists. It's only good as a strawman for you to throw matches at.

SB3
3934
Points
SB3 09/29/13 - 10:24 am
10
0
If the old city doesn't exist,

Why does so much of the money go to where it used to be? We will be building our final retirement home soon and I can promise you it won't be in Richmond County where we live now.

TrulyWorried
16524
Points
TrulyWorried 09/29/13 - 10:34 am
5
0
Different subject

that has never been answered and hopefully Countyman knows. How can they name a bridge (15th Street) after one person when it already HAS been named (long time ago) after another person? Bugs the daylights out of me and nobody cares!!

harley_52
25920
Points
harley_52 09/29/13 - 10:38 am
1
8
"Why does so much of the money go to where it used to be?"

Good question. I wish I could answer it for sure, but I can't.

I suspect (but don't know) that they spend the money mainly where they think there will be a relatively large return on their investment. Let's face it, they don't get a lot of money from taxpayers out in sparsely populated, low income areas. They get most of their money from businesses (the bigger the better) and people with homes worth a lot of money.

I'd love to see a comparison of the income the ARC derives from each area and the expenditures made to support/improve those areas. Anybody know of such a thing?

Countyman is constantly advising us of private investor plans throughout ARC and I, for one, greatly appreciate it. But, I see very little of the kind of data I mentioned above.

GnipGnop
12744
Points
GnipGnop 09/29/13 - 11:22 am
6
0
There is no doubt about it

My property taxes have risen 300% in the last 10 years and I have yet to see anything for it. Slow or no police response. Strong-armed into paying a trash tax that not every property owner has to pay. A different formula forcing me to pay more property taxes than someone who lives in the old city (which may not exist on paper but it sure gets the majority of tax money from the other 150k residents)a soon to be rain tax even though residents that don't have any runoff or do not own the property the ditches are on in front of their house but will still have to pay. It should be illegal and really it is fraud...but hey that's just the way Robin and Charles operated and we all know they wrote the consolidation package.

seenitB4
97781
Points
seenitB4 09/29/13 - 12:14 pm
9
1
Bite my tongue til it hurts

I can't keep biting my tongue....harley, I respect you but I think you are missing something.......just read the comments on here from your fellow RC posters...,.gentry---rebel--dichotomy---sb3--gnipgnop....etc..

You can't keep flogging the horse & expect him to keep you as a rider....he will buck you off sooner or later..could it be they have lost hope in their county gov leaders?? Could it be they don't see their dollars going for the whole of Augusta??
I would think the many plants/business in south Augusta pad the budget by millions.....maybe the "nice" homes are not concentrated in the outside district but LAND & timber are there...these folks are telling us they are leaving the county.....are they ALL wrong?

countyman
21638
Points
countyman 09/29/13 - 02:11 pm
1
9
Facts

The money going into Laney Walker/Bethlehm is NOT tax payer money. The money is coming from the millions of people who visit Augusta each day. The old city of Augusta holds plenty of festivals/events that bring tourist/revenue into the city. Laney Walker might not be a tourist destination, but neither is South Augusta.

The same people complaining about the lack of funds countywide ONLY mention South Augusta every time. Why should West Augusta or North Richmond have to rely on private funds? Name the last time the city build something large in either area?

The majority of the Richmond County master plan was related to South Augusta. Why do people continue to pretend the Hyde Park relocation, Diamond Lakes, infrastructure for Starbucks in the Corporate Park, magnet high school, general perry smith pkwy/augusta regional industrial park, marshal's office, Mike Padgett substation, Butler Creek Greenway, $3-$4 million lake near Regency Mall, etc doesn't exist in South Augusta?

The people who bring up South Augusta are completely misinformed, because look at West Augusta for example.

The cities of Charleston, Savannah, Chattanooga, Greenville, Columbia, etc have all SPENT more funds in their urban core compared to Augusta.

countyman
21638
Points
countyman 09/29/13 - 02:32 pm
1
8
Facts

I don't care what anybody says, because sometimes the truth hurts. The ONLY areas that could potentially be comparable to the urban core in terms of attracting white collar office jobs is West Augusta/North Richmond. Each area of the county should play their distinct role, and not try to emulate one another.

Augusta Lung Associates/another company is remodeling the former bank at 1301 Broad street. The CEO of Rural Sourcing said the IT company located in the Enterprise Mill could potentially have 200/300 employees. Southpoint Media opened their new office in the Enterprise Mill in June, and multiple other companies are located in the mill. The Fort Discovery building was sold, and can easily hold space for hundreds of employees. The Cancer Center, GGHF site, and Mills/Cultural campus would only attract more private construction.

Riverman... The population of the city limit is pretty much irrelevant in 2013. Cities might annex portions of the surrounding land, or consolidate. The cities who have a larger population compared to the old city of Augusta might only be due to them having a larger area(number of sq. mi.)

Seenit.. None of those people said they were leaving Richmond County except for SB3. GnipGnop already lives in Aiken County, and not Richmond County. I respect everybody opinions, and you should respect the thousands of people who live here, and moving here. The people who see the changes happening all over Richmond County. They'll agree the commission should do more, but they do see things moving in the right direction.

Some people will always think the grass is greener on the other side. Especially when the media focuses 90% of the negative reporting towards Richmond County. I'm positive the media in any other city would be ecstatic if they had inner city neighborhoods attracting millions of dollars.

There's no point of debating somebody who believes another place is better. The TEE Center was approved by the voters of Richmond County, and people complain every single day. The leaders of Columbia County spent $10 million to build a exhibition hall without any vote, and nobody says nothing. The mixed-use development was a bad idea for Augusta according to the usual posters on here, and now the same project(without Jim Jacoby/Cal Ripken) is this awesome thing. The funny thing is even North Augusta now wants to build a smaller convention center. How can anyone really believe North Augusta or Grovetown can support one compared to Augusta?

People have a problem when Augusta wants to create the rain tax, but Columbia/Aiken already have the stormwater fee.

The same double standards goes for the opportunity zone... Multiple areas in the CSRA can use the designation, but not Augusta.

The growth of the urban core is more important to the CSRA than any other area. The biotech park, student housing/retail development, etc including in the plan backs up my comment.

seenitB4
97781
Points
seenitB4 09/29/13 - 02:33 pm
6
0
What???

I don't think I could be brazen enough to tell tax payers they are misinformed...especially if I rented in downtown cbd...nahhh I wouldn't do that..but that's just me.

seenitB4
97781
Points
seenitB4 09/29/13 - 02:39 pm
6
0
Whoa....just a dad burn minute

Some of these posters I mentioned call & email me....they tell me MORE on personal emails....do they email YOU? Nahh, I didn't think so.....I see some of our posts are getting you rattled somewhat......stay calm drink something soothing...you will still have a job....we all need a cheerleader.

seenitB4
97781
Points
seenitB4 09/29/13 - 02:43 pm
3
0
That isn't what they called it

The same double standards goes for the opportunity zone...

Now, did they?

seenitB4
97781
Points
seenitB4 09/29/13 - 03:10 pm
3
0
also read the posts again

gentry did say he was looking to move out...you missed thatpoint.

also, even though some live elsewhere they have real estate in Richmond & that means they pay taxes THEREthey have every right to complain or whatever they pleae....I think sweetson said he pays at least $1400 a year on a house in the southside.

anyhow...I have to do other things---so have fun.

Riverman1
93859
Points
Riverman1 09/29/13 - 03:41 pm
6
0
What Is Taxpayer Money

Countyman said, "The money going into Laney Walker/Bethlehm is NOT tax payer money. The money is coming from the millions of people who visit Augusta each day."

The fact is the hotel tax belongs to the taxpayers of all the county. Most of the tax is actually generated outside of downtown. By the way, since you made up this "North Richmond" designation, care to share with us where it is?

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