Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

City Ink: Review is in for Laney-Walker revitalization project

Saturday, May 3, 2014 7:23 PM
Last updated 8:01 PM
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Last year, when 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 until 2015, when more bonds could be issued, 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, such as, “Where’s the evidence of the 10-to-1 match of private to public investment dollars cited on the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem Web site?”

It turned out that the 10-to-1 match is “a long-term aspirational goal,” which might have been dreamed up by the PR firm Wheeler is paying $6,000 a month to promote the project, although the 10-to-1 match wasn’t identified as an “aspirational goal” on the Web site but as a fact.

Commissioner Alvin Mason said the math didn’t work, and that after five years and $8 million into the project the match was less than 1-to-1.

LET’S CALL IN THE EXPERTS: Ma­son proposed that then-city Administrator Fred Russell assemble a team of experts on urban redevelopment from other cities to review the overall project. Russell said new planning director Melanie Wilson had contacts in that area she could call on.

So the Community Plan­ning Assistance Team (CPAT), a program of the American Institute of Cer­tified Planners (AICP), the professional institute of the American Planning As­so­ciation (APA), was chosen to review the project.

Can you say “conflict of interest?” The Laney-Walker project received the 2013 HUD Secretary’s Opportunity and Empowerment Award from HUD and the APA!

So the project got an award from the team doing the review. The final report will be discussed at Tues­day’s commission meeting, where Wheeler will again ask for the $2.5 million bridge loan that the CPAT recommends funding.

FLASHBACK: Before continuing with the report, I’d like for you to read part of a City Ink column written last year after the vote to call in the experts:

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.”

THROW MORE MONEY AT IT: That’s a remarkably accurate, albeit somewhat exaggerated, prediction from the Crystal Ball, except that the report doesn’t recommend throwing money from the special purpose local option sales tax at the Laney-Walker project. It’s worse than that. Much worse. It recommends throwing general-fund money at it. The experts said without it, the project will be crippled in the long run.

Among other things, the review team recommends immediately hiring an internal project manager, strengthening community partnerships and pursuing alternative funding streams.

What it doesn’t address are the finances of the project – the 10-to-1 (or 7-to-1) public-private match Co­pen­­haver and Wheeler have been touting. And it does nothing to clear the air on the overall financing of the project.

A BITTER PILL TO SWALLOW: Augusta mayoral candidate Helen Blocker-Adams must be disappointed to see Copenhaver’s name topping the list of hosts for Wednesday’s reception for mayoral candidate Hardie Davis, especially since she endorsed the Boy King during his 2005 runoff with then-interim Mayor Willie Mays.

Blocker-Adams had come in third in the election to fill the unexpired term of Mayor Bob Young, who’d resigned to accept a job with HUD. After endorsing Copenhaver over Mays, Blocker-Adams said she received much hostility from the black community.

Others hosting the Davis reception at the Snelling Center on Washington Road are Augusta attorney Randy Frails, Joe Mullins, George Snelling, Marion Barnes, David Bell, Chris Booker, Steve Bryant, Hardie Davis Sr., Brian Dennis, Ed Enoch, Rodger Giles, Gene Hunt, Bridgette Jefferson, James Kendrick, Rep. and Mrs. Brian Prince, J.R. Riles, Quincy Robertson, Jonathan Ross, Darren Smith, Sherry Smith, Woodrow Tillery, Bert Thomas, Cheri Tutt and Tracy Williams.

TWO SQUELCHES IN ONE WEEK: When Mason, a mayoral candidate who has campaigned against renewing the penny sales tax, said during last week’s committee meetings that the tax package was illegal, Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle asked attorney Andrew MacKenzie whether they’d followed the same process as they had for the previous tax package. MacKenzie said, “Yes.”

Mason then said they hadn’t had enough public hearings; whereupon Com­mis­sioner Donnie Smith said, “We had the same number of public hearings we had before. But you would have had to have been here to know that we held them.”

Mason said he had to make a living, and that he had experience from being a commissioner during the previous SPLOST.

“Well again, you would have to have been here to use that experience,” Smith said.

At public forums, Mason has been touting growth and new businesses coming to Augusta during his tenure on the board, including Costco, but WJBF-TV reporter George Eskola confronted him with the fact that he’d been the only commissioner to vote against the Costco incentive package and is now taking credit for it.

“I never said I would bring anything,” Mason said. “I think it’s clear I said, ‘We brought some of the most explosive growth.’ Any one commissioner can’t bring anything.

I don’t feel like we had to give up the bank,” he said, adding that if some of his colleagues had voted no as well, they might have gotten a better deal.

A DANCE HALL BY ANY OTHER NAME IS STILL A DANCE HALL: When a request for a dance hall license to be used in connection with Cheerz Lounge at 2059 Gordon Highway came up on last week’s committee agenda, Commissioner Marion Williams objected to the term “dance hall,” asking why it had to be used.

Rob Sherman, a deputy director in the planning department, said that was the term used in the city ordinance.

“Do you know what a dance hall is?” Williams asked.

Nobody answered.

I called Williams later to find out whether he knew something about dance halls I didn’t know. He said, “A dance hall sounds like something in the old West – a saloon. If it’s dancing, it ought to say dancing.’ If it’s alcohol and dancing, it ought to be alcohol and dancing, not ‘dance hall.’”

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Riverman1
79223
Points
Riverman1 05/03/14 - 08:41 pm
12
1
Now Supporting Davis Because I Have Six Vehicles On Road

After seeing the poll that came out today showing Hardie Davis with a huge lead and now seeing all these backers, I'm going to give him a donation so he'll think I've always really been for him. I once had a Richmond County official explain to me his backing for a sheriff's candidate was because he had six vehicles on the road. Wink.

Concerning the Laney Walker-ANIC fortune being wasted, it's one of those things that's been exposed in so many ways it's numbing. It came out previously Copenhaver's wife owns one house down there. I'm guessing she owns more. Thus we get Deke touting the project when we all know it deserves no such accolades.

Those Smiths at the Hardie Davis reception must be related to Donnie Smith the way he went after Alvin Mason.

I'd call the Gordon Hwy establishment a danceahol.

Little Lamb
43821
Points
Little Lamb 05/03/14 - 08:43 pm
9
1
No Comment

There's not much to say about this column. The mayoral election is underway. Let us not forget that the mayor's office is largely ceremonial as long as you've got independent commissioners. When three or four commissioners have been bought off, then the mayor matters.

Riverman1
79223
Points
Riverman1 05/03/14 - 09:23 pm
8
3
LL, I Disagree

LL, oh, I disagree. This mayor will be important. He will break 5-5 deadlocks to the Democratic, black comissioners, Hardie Davis side. The white commissioners won't use the questionable tactics of walking out and abstaining they complained about in the past. Thus the mayor becomes something we haven't seen before.

Little Lamb
43821
Points
Little Lamb 05/03/14 - 10:08 pm
12
1
5-5

Sorry, but there will be no 5-5 votes. The commissioners learned during the Sconyers administration that if the sentiments are 5-5, someone will abstain in order to prevent the mayor from voting. It's a tactic that has been employed dozens if not a hundred times since consolidation.

Old Vetern
66
Points
Old Vetern 05/03/14 - 10:18 pm
14
2
Money

The Laney project has received enough monies from SPLOST Why is it necessary to pay someone $6,000.00 a month to oversee a project that once started should of been taken over by someone that works for the city. They do not share the monies from SPLOST equally with the rest of the county. It seems that for every dollar the rest of the county gets from these taxes the pet projects of some commissioners get $3.00 dollars and show no progress for that money.

Little Lamb
43821
Points
Little Lamb 05/03/14 - 10:24 pm
8
5
Hold Your Breath

Watch out folks. I heard the BreathEasy spokeslady on the Harley and Mary Liz show on Friday saying they were coming back for another vote on the smoking ban in bars. There ought to be a law that if your motion fails, you cannot bring it back for at least five years.

Riverman1
79223
Points
Riverman1 05/03/14 - 10:32 pm
10
3
White Commissioners Walking Out

LL, white commissioners have NEVER purposefully walked out or abstained to prevent the mayor from breaking ties is my point. THAT'S why this mayor will be so important. The whites won't walk out or abstain as blacks have done in the past.

However, it would be interesting if that started to happen with Davis and what he would have the legislative delegation do.

Little Lamb
43821
Points
Little Lamb 05/03/14 - 10:38 pm
12
2
Hold On

I would not be so sure of that, RM. Parliamentary tactics work both ways. The abstention is a useful tool that may be necessary to save us poor taxpayers a lot of money in the coming years.

Let's say Marion Williams puts forward a motion to impose a rain tax on us taxpayers. All it would take is for Brandon Dial (hopefully our next District 10 commissioner) to abstain and the motion dies.

Abstaining is honorable when used in furtherance of limited government and lower taxes.

Riverman1
79223
Points
Riverman1 05/03/14 - 10:40 pm
11
2
Not Overseeing

Old Vet Asked, "Why is it necessary to pay someone $6,000.00 a month to oversee a project?"

It's not to oversee the project, it's to talk it up no matter how much it smells like the bass I left in my boat last week. PR.

Riverman1
79223
Points
Riverman1 05/03/14 - 10:46 pm
5
2
"Parliamentary tactics work both ways."

"Parliamentary tactics work both ways."

Remember the court cases Woody brought? I will say it will be hilarious if the white commissioners start to walk out and use the abstention tactics. The bottom line is they won't.

Little Lamb
43821
Points
Little Lamb 05/03/14 - 11:03 pm
7
1
Parliamentary

Yes, I remember the lawsuits Woody Merry brought regarding abstentions. Judge Overstreet ruled that abstentions are legal and proper. They have the same effect as a 'Nay' vote, but they do not trigger the mayor to vote. I hope my commissioners use it when Marion brings up something stupid.

rebellious
20165
Points
rebellious 05/03/14 - 11:38 pm
8
7
Vote Hardy

and the corruption downtown may subside a little. Fingers hurt, cant type much as i would like. Vote Hardy Davis. He's a good guy.

geecheeriverman
1601
Points
geecheeriverman 05/04/14 - 05:25 am
17
3
White neighborhoods

Can anyone name a section of town, or a neighborhood, that is receiving funds for improvement that is predominately white. I can not think of any. Laney-Walker, Augusta Mini Theatre, the new homes off Sand Bar Ferry Road, and I am sure there are others, have sucked tax money from the taxpayers for years, and will continue until someone has the guts to say no. All you have to do is look at the cities in the USA that have a Majority of minorities running the Government, and see how many have gone bankrupt, and a lot of the elected officials are in jail .Augusta/Richmond County, you are in for a long bumpy ride, just wait and see!

Riverman1
79223
Points
Riverman1 05/04/14 - 07:50 am
2
3
About Commissioners Walking Out

The court case Woody brought didn't help much, but Judge Overstreet said when they walked out to prevent a 5-5 vote it was illegal. That was overturned later. The mayor can only vote in cases of 5-5 votes and 6 votes are needed to pass. Thus a 5-4 vote doesn't allow the mayor to vote and doesn't pass the motion. I don't believe the white commissioners will stoop to such tactics after they complained so much in the past about the practice, but I could be wrong.

seenitB4
81170
Points
seenitB4 05/04/14 - 08:27 am
6
5
Revitalize something besides downtown

When will the Fleming area get a dose of money---or Tobacco Rd area--Peach Orch Rd---Deans Bridge---Lumpkin RD area...dang good thing I don'tlive there anymore or I would be at the meetings raising CAIN H***....I'm disgusted just reading this slop.

Little Lamb
43821
Points
Little Lamb 05/04/14 - 08:41 am
2
1
Overstreet

Yeah, RM, I was foggy in my remembrance of Overstreet's ruling. I think he ruled something crazy like that the mayor could count abstentions any which way he wanted, yes or no. That was total lunacy. Fortunately, a higher court overruled Overstreet. That guy is a loose cannon.

countyman
19115
Points
countyman 05/04/14 - 09:44 am
2
9
Facts

''The Laney project has received enough monies from SPLOST''

This comment is absolutely false, because the recent funds have come from the hotel tax... The $1.5 million annual visitors are paying for the improvements..

''Can anyone name a section of town, or a neighborhood, that is receiving funds for improvement that is predominately white. I can not think of any. Laney-Walker, Augusta Mini Theatre, the new homes off Sand Bar Ferry Road, and I am sure there are others, have sucked tax money from the taxpayers for years, and will continue until someone has the guts to say no.''

The majority of poorer areas in the county are majority black.. How can you mention the Augusta Mini theater and then forget about the Miller, Imperial, Augusta Museum of History, or the Augusta Canal Authority? There's several majority black areas in the county worse off compared to Laney Walker(East Augusta, Turpin Hill, etc) that aren't receiving funds for improvements.... The federal government is responsible for the new apartments on Sand Bar Ferry(Walton Oaks: mixed-income housing)...

I can think of several new projects on the white side of town... The new road through the Village at Riverwatch, Alexander Drive landscaped median, the Berckman road expansion moving up to the front of the TSplost process, Fleming Tennis center, Warren road park, Brookfield Park, millions for the city of Hephzibah and Blythe in the most recent and future splost, etc...

''When will the Fleming area get a dose of money---or Tobacco Rd area--Peach Orch Rd---Deans Bridge---Lumpkin RD area...dang good thing I don'tlive there anymore or I would be at the meetings raising CAIN H***....I'm disgusted just reading this slop.''

The new marshal's office, Dover/Lyman improvements, new utility/tag office, $3.5 million rocky creek development, and bus terminal are located in those areas mentioned..

seenitB4
81170
Points
seenitB4 05/04/14 - 09:59 am
10
1
OMG OMG

I knew that post would bring you out ctyman...when does a marshall's office --bus depot--tag office actually IMPROVE a residential area????

THAT kind of thinking is what is keeping the south side down in the boonies...GEEZ GEEZ
I give up!! You win & keep doing what you're doing...I'll just watch the demise..

nocnoc
38310
Points
nocnoc 05/04/14 - 10:11 am
8
1
Revitalization = PORK

Revitalization = Graft

Revitalization = TAX INCREASES with Nothing acomplished worth the $$$$ spent.

Revitalization = NEVER any real accountability of $$$$$$ spent.

Revitalization = How many revitalization projects since 1970 (Mall Era) has DOWNTOWN had, and we still have yet to see profitable or any where near the promised results for the Taxpayer $$$$ spent?.

ENOUGH WITH DOWNTOWN
The next Revitalization should be the Peach Orchard Rd 25 & Dean Bridge Rd. corridors.

nocnoc
38310
Points
nocnoc 05/04/14 - 10:14 am
3
0
Countyman

Glad to see you back in full swing.

Seriously...
We may not always agree, but you add a much needed balance and information generally not found easily other.

countyman
19115
Points
countyman 05/04/14 - 10:17 am
4
5
South Augusta

When did you single out residential areas? The Peach Orchard, Tobacco, and Deans Bridge corridors are full of commercial developments.. The Dover/Lyman improvements are specifically for helping improve the residential area. The tag/utility office does improve the neighborhood, because the former building was vacant... The Marshals office will help deter crime from happening in the immediate area..

What demise? The Dunkin Donuts/Firehouse Subs is open and the Chick Fil A/Krispy Kreme are under construction on Peach Orchard. The entire Windsor Square center will be redeveloped and other businesses are coming soon(land clearing underway)...

The city of Augusta could always spend additional funds in South Augusta, but let's not portray their spending everything downtown..

There's more potential for residential growth in Laney Walker(right next to the Medical District and the CBD) compared to all of those areas except for maybe Tobacco rd(near Fort Gordon and between Peach Orchard/Mike Padgett), Peach Orchard(between Tobacco rd and Hephzibah) and Deans Bridge(between Tobacco rd and Blythe)..

jimmymac
32493
Points
jimmymac 05/04/14 - 10:41 am
0
0
LANEY
Unpublished

This ongoing project is turning out to be a money pit. Obviously hiring a PR firm and paying $6000 a month to tout your actions speak volumes as to where the money is going. The money being spent and who owns what should be investigated.

Riverman1
79223
Points
Riverman1 05/04/14 - 10:53 am
7
3
If I Wanted to Rejuvenate Laney Walker...

ANIC is so top heavy with administrators, staff and PR people it's ridiculous. If I did believe in the attempt to rejuvenate Laney Walker, I'd have the county simply buy a dilapidated property, tear down the slum house, pay a builder to construct a new house and sell it with the money going back to the county. Zero ANIC involvement and employees.

southern2
5324
Points
southern2 05/04/14 - 11:35 am
8
3
REDISTRIBUTION at it's

REDISTRIBUTION at it's finest.

Sick of draining my finances and doing without to support these heinous acts of socialistic bondage.

seenitB4
81170
Points
seenitB4 05/04/14 - 11:40 am
5
2
but let's not portray their spending everything downtown..

But let's do because that is where MOST of the $$$ are going!

Even a blind mouse can see that...

Gage Creed
15660
Points
Gage Creed 05/04/14 - 12:51 pm
4
1
"This comment is absolutely

"This comment is absolutely false, because the recent funds have come from the hotel tax... The $1.5 million annual visitors are paying for the improvements."

^ Please tell me where these funds would have went had the bribe not been offered?

"I can think of several new projects on the white side of town... The new road through the Village at Riverwatch, Alexander Drive landscaped median, the Berckman road expansion moving up to the front of the TSplost process, Fleming Tennis center, Warren road park, Brookfield Park, millions for the city of Hephzibah and Blythe in the most recent and future splost, etc..."

^ All the more reason to reject the SPLOST

Sweet son
9682
Points
Sweet son 05/04/14 - 02:00 pm
2
1
Ira Davis and Woody Merry!

It would be great to have these two colorful people to hold the commission's toes to the fire! If nothing else it might produce smiles and maybe some positive banter.

myfather15
49590
Points
myfather15 05/04/14 - 04:57 pm
0
2
Bla, Bla, Bla......Yada,

Bla, Bla, Bla......Yada, Yada, Yada!!

dichotomy
30450
Points
dichotomy 05/04/14 - 05:58 pm
5
2
Laney Walker redevelopment.

Laney Walker redevelopment. An already broke "redevelopment" project that was born out of blackmail, deceit, kickbacks, insider profiteering, and incompetent administration. And now they want a "loan".

The only difference between this and the TEE project is that the rich folks got their project completed at RC taxpayers expense and at a double the cost we approved, plus we threw in a free parking deck. And now they want an elevated crosswalk...which our commissioners who are a sucker for ANY bad deal made the mistake of promising them....wink & nod to the rich folks.

Both projects were wrong for Richmond County taxpayers and both were born out of backroom racially motivated vote trading. Now we are broke and can't even pay for the renovations they started on the Marble Palace or come up with the matching funds for the cancer center.

Meanwhile, some South Augusta neighborhoods are starting to look like what they tore down on Laney Walker. Of course that is not surprising since much of it is now occupied by the same relocated Section 8 renters. At what point in time do we start talking about a South Augusta redevelopment SPLOST? Probably not until it is all black.

Right on
143
Points
Right on 05/04/14 - 06:58 pm
1
2
Around the bowl nd down the

Around the bowl and down the hole!!! Go Richmond Cty, go

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