Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Redevelopment board likes look of Laney-Walker

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Augusta’s Urban Rede­vel­opment Agency authorized a $2.5 million loan to keep efforts in the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem area going, ensuring the fine example of wealth distribution will continue uninterrupted until the city can go back to the well for more bond money next year.

The URA board was obviously impressed with what they saw during a tour of the new homes on Pine, Flor­ence and 11th streets Thursday, complimenting the design and quality construction.

After a presentation by Housing and Com­mu­nity Development Director Chester Wheeler, there were plenty of questions from board members Bob Young, the former Augusta mayor; downtown activist Brad Owens; Broad Street businesswoman Bonnie Ruben; and Libertarian party official Amanda Bryant before the board approved the loan.

They could hardly do anything else. To cut off money for the extensive revitalization project until sometime next year would be a big negative for the city and the current homeowners who’ve taken advantage of what appear to be the biggest real estate bargains in town, according to financial information distributed at the meeting.

Where else could you buy a house with a total project cost of $164,005 that was appraised at $128,000 and sold for $124,750 with a down payment subsidy of $35,000? The subsidy goes as a second mortgage held by the city that doesn’t have to be repaid until the property is sold.

Another example is a house on 11th Street with a total project cost of $167,086 that was appraised at $126,000 and sold for $120,500 with down payment subsidy of $32,100 and $4,301 in closing costs.

Also on 11th Street is a house that cost $205,606.95 and sold for $173,950. One on Pine Street cost $196,683 and sold for $173,950.

In all, 24 houses have been built and 22 sold with 14 of the sales being subsidized. About $10.8 million in public money has been spent on lots, demolition, engineering, architectural services, construction and consultants.

The project is cash- strapped because of up-front costs that outran the $750,000 a year from a $1-a-night hotel-motel tax that will continue after most people reading this are as dead as doornails.

TRANSPARENCY AT LAST: If you’re concerned about possible waste, fraud and abuse in the redevelopment project, you can relax – unless you think the whole thing is waste, fraud and abuse – because Young, Ruben, Owens and Bryant won’t miss a trick.

Young, a former U.S. Hou­sing and Urban De­vel­­op­ment assistant deputy secretary for field policy and management in Wash­ing­ton, knows where to look and which questions to ask.

For example, during Thurs­­day’s meeting with Whee­ler, his staff and consultants, Young, after reviewing project financial information, asked where the program income was listed. It wasn’t.

Later during lunch, a consultant who hadn’t known Young had worked at HUD said he thought the question was unusual because most people didn’t ask about program income.

“You have to know where to look for program income,” Young said. “But the cardinal rule for anybody trying to get to the bottom of something is ‘Follow the money.’ Not that there’s anything sinister about the project, but there are high expectations. I guess it’s up to us to see they’re met.”

THEY DO NOT SUFFER FOOLS GLADLY: If Ruben weren’t a brilliant businesswoman and accountant, she couldn’t have kept two businesses going on Broad Street for years after others failed or pulled up stakes and moved to the malls.

Ruben said the revitalization is long overdue and “a giant step in the right direction to bring young families back to the city center.”

“It was a nostalgic tour especially meaningful to me because so many of our customers from the past lived in the neighborhood,” she said. “I recognized many of the addresses from layaway customers back in the ’50s and ’60s when my job as a kid at the store was to go to retrieve layaway items from the storage rooms!”

Owens sure shook things up when he was on the Rich­­mond County Animal Con­trol board and the Down­town Development Au­thor­ity, so you can expect no less from him as a URA member.

Bryant is the chairwoman of the anti-taxation group CSRA Libertarians, and was student body president of Geor­gia Regents Uni­versity’s Sum­merville campus before graduating, so that ought to tell you something.

WHERE’S ISAAC, AND WHERE’S DONNIE FOR THAT MATTER? A fifth URA board member, Isaac McKinney, hasn’t attended any of the new board’s meetings because the information on the talent bank form the city had on hand was incorrect.

After Thursday’s meeting, he showed up at Ru­ben’s hotel, the Ramada Plaza, and said he hadn’t heard anything about his appointment since Augusta Com­mission member Don­nie Smith mentioned it to him about six months ago.

ANOTHER WEEKEND AT THE BEACH FOR INTENSE INSTRUCTION IN GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS: In other news, Augusta commissioners are in Savannah for another conference.

This time it’s the Georgia Mu­nicipal Association’s annual conference, which began Friday and ends Tues­day. So that’s another $5,000 or $6,000 down the drain unless they learn what to do about that big ol’ budget deficit, which they won’t.

The tireless travelers say they learn so much at these conferences that they just have to keep on going. If that’s so, why do they keep acting like they know it all already?

MARBLE PALACE INTRIGUE: Appar­ently, some commissioners have had second thoughts about moving Clerk of Commission Lena Bonner’s offices from cramped quarters on the second floor of the Marble Palace to the spacious suite at the other end of the hall that the attorney was supposed to move into.

So expect a move to rescind the previous vote to relocate Bonner. It could come up at Thursday’s meeting, when interim city Administrator Tameka Allen updates commissioners on the renovation.

Changes to the renovation plans won’t come cheap. Allen previously told commissioners that architect Virgo Gambill would charge $2,500 just to sit down and talk about changes to the clerk’s office.

BUT SHE CERTAINLY PUT A GOOD FRONT (AND REAR): There’s a lot of money to be made underwriting the city’s $160 million utility bonds refunding, which must be the reason principles of IFS Securities Inc. circumvented the city’s procurement process, got on Tuesday’s com­mis­sion agenda and made a pitch for minority inclusion in the upcoming refinancing.

Angela Avery, the company owner, the vice president and an underwriter contend they can save the city $30 million on the refinancing through a negotiated process instead of the traditional competitive process, which they say excludes minority firms because of banks’ large capital requirement to bid on bond projects.

Avery said the city’s current financial advisor, PFM Inc.; bond counsel McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP; and disclosure counsel Murray Barnes Finister LLP are all white firms.

City Procurement Di­rec­tor Geri Sams threw cold water on IFS’ bold approach with a letter to Avery on Friday stating that she’d searched all possible files for the company’s contact information and couldn’t find IFS as a registered business with Augusta.

“In my attempt to locate an address for your company, I also looked on the Georgia secretary of state Web page and did not find this company registered in the state at all,” she stated.

Sams listed seven sites vendors could access to be included in the bid process.

“In order to assure fair and open competition, any unsolicited proposals or any information given at the June 17, 2014, commission meeting will not be considered by the Procurement Department,” she stated.

Comments (60) Add comment
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IBeDogGone
3014
Points
IBeDogGone 06/21/14 - 08:52 pm
3
0
Where's Donnie

I thought surely you would fill us in on those details!

Little Lamb
46022
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Little Lamb 06/21/14 - 09:06 pm
2
0
Come on Sylvia,

dig deeper. From your story:

IFS Securities Inc. circumvented the city’s procurement process, got on Tuesday’s com­mis­sion agenda and made a pitch for minority inclusion in the upcoming refinancing. . . .

I thought it took a commissioner (or the mayor) to place an item on the commission regular meeting agenda. Who was it who allowed his (or her) name to get this company’s item on the agenda?

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 06/22/14 - 02:07 am
2
11
Progressive

The naysayers said the city wouldn't be able to sell one home.. The Laney Walker neighborhood won't be the hood anymore in the next 5-10 years.. Either Harrisburg or Laney Walker will become the next intown hotspot(currently Olde Town and Midtown)..

The city of Augusta must continue to work on attracting multiple businesses to Laney Walker, Medical District, Summerville, Midtown, and Olde Town in walking distance of each other..

corgimom
32468
Points
corgimom 06/22/14 - 06:23 am
7
3
Yeah, the hood will be South

Yeah, the hood will be South Augusta. Because when a municipality does these "revitalization projects", it just moves the problem to somewhere else and destroys another part of the county. It doesn't get rid of it.

*********************************

Those people buying their houses have to send their kids to some of the worst schools in Augusta. And that's just plain sad.

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
7808
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ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 06/22/14 - 06:25 am
16
0
Oh Yes, Progressive

Where can I buy a $200,000 plus newly constructed house for $175,000 and get the city to put up $35,000 for the down payment, that I won't have to pay back? I'd jump all over that too, but you won't see it happening in a neighborhood that I'm willing to live in!!

geecheeriverman
2462
Points
geecheeriverman 06/22/14 - 07:11 am
8
0
never

Politicians never cease to amaze me. People who do not vote, are mainly the cause of the problems that these politicians cause, and until the citizens wake up and get off the smartphones, and stop watching the garbage on TV, we will live with the problem.

seenitB4
87275
Points
seenitB4 06/22/14 - 07:21 am
3
3
after most people reading this are as dead as doornails.

Especially the folks in south Augusta....

seenitB4
87275
Points
seenitB4 06/22/14 - 07:25 am
8
2
are all white firms.

Dang!! We can't have that can we...shhh..they might just GET THE JOB DONE RIGHT!

Amazing to me that having white firms is a no no to them......just simply amazing.

dichotomy
32973
Points
dichotomy 06/22/14 - 10:05 am
7
1
"The Laney Walker

"The Laney Walker neighborhood won't be the hood anymore in the next 5-10 years.."

Well yeh....after you spend $millions of taxpayer dollars on the "hood relocation project" the hood will be completely moved to South Augusta. Isn't it amazing how many viable neighborhoods you can destroy with other people's money and claim you've made progress? You can prop up ANYTHING with enough taxpayer money for a while but is it worth it..........I don't think so. To restore a relatively small residential area you have used Section 8 and it's associated crime and rot to destroy the neighborhoods, retail, and restaurants in virtually 1/3 of the geographic area of the county. I declare your "redevelopment" a FAIL for the overall benefit of the entire county. But that was the Consolidation Plan from day one wasn't it?

dichotomy
32973
Points
dichotomy 06/22/14 - 10:23 am
5
0
"which they say excludes

"which they say excludes minority firms because of banks’ large capital requirement to bid on bond projects.........Avery said the city’s current .........are all white firms."

Oh yeh, now that we have a black mayor elect and what is already effectively a black controlled commission, these "minority' companies will be flocking in here like buzzards trying to pitch their wares with the minority argument. They can smell blood in the water.

That fluttering you hear coming from downtown is your tax money fixing to fly out the window for "reparation" contracts. "We should get that contract regardless of our qualifications because we are a minority company."

I'm glad Gerri Sams put a stop to this one but believe me, this is just the first shot out of the gun.

Riverman1
83996
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Riverman1 06/22/14 - 10:56 am
8
2
The Key Phrase

"... ensuring the fine example of wealth distribution will continue uninterrupted..."

That's what it's all about.

seenitB4
87275
Points
seenitB4 06/22/14 - 11:29 am
3
2
yeh--that is the key phrase

But what they can't get is that this kind of spending also ensures the homeowners WON'T move back to Richmond county....you make it impossible for any rational adult to waste their hard earned money in this county...
Get a grip on your thinking....and fast!

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 06/22/14 - 01:35 pm
1
5
Facts

There's no way everybody displaced from housing projects or the LW improvements will end up in South Augusta or Richmond County..

The naysayers were completely wrong about Laney Walker and they're wrong about South Augusta too..

The $172 million Starbucks plant, $115 million Rockwood plant, $20 million Augusta Renewable Energy, $10 million Eco Energy, and Palmetto Propane all chose South Augusta to build their new facilities...

The Chick Fil A, Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts, Hibbett Sports, and Firehouse Subs decided to open along Peach Orchard.. The redevelopment of Windsor Square will bring additional national retailers/restaurants to South Augusta.. The next Target/Kohl's in metro Augusta should open somewhere near the Peach Orchard/I-520/Windsor Spring corridor.. There's also rumors of Walmart building in South Augusta closer towards the city limits of Hephzibah.. The Tobacco road corridor is probably 10-15 minutes away from Hephzibah..

Dichotomy... The money is coming from the hotel tax and not local taxpayers... The overwhelmingly majority of hotels are located in West Augusta..

Brad Owens
4429
Points
Brad Owens 06/22/14 - 11:50 am
1
7
RM1,

This is 100% the other side of the TEE Center. At least this will only use the $1 a night fee instead of also requiring millions a year in management fees as well.

Plus, half of the new home owners required no subsidization at all so I would respectfully disagree that this is "wealth" distribution or redistribution.

Also, sennitB4, I would also point out that two of the homes are in the $240,000.00 range and are both people moving into the neighborhood. One is a dentist and the other a Medical Doctor.

This is a true mixed use development and one that at the end of the day will help repair the urban core like none other I have seen.

I suggest folks take a closer look before lobbing a Molotov into this program.

This is a much better way to turn things around than housing projects and TEE Centers.

I am cautiously optimistic, but will of course never let the apparent good blind me from any possible bad.

I am digging into the "partners" and will be looking for ways to improve this projects efficiency for sure.

Brad

seenitB4
87275
Points
seenitB4 06/22/14 - 11:50 am
8
2
Did you read this ctyman?

" $2.5 million loan to keep efforts in the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem area going, ensuring the fine example of wealth distribution will continue uninterrupted until the city can go back to the well for more bond money next year."

What if the well is DRY next year & the year after??

Brad Owens
4429
Points
Brad Owens 06/22/14 - 11:50 am
1
4
RM1,

This is 100% the other side of the TEE Center. At least this will only use the $1 a night fee instead of also requiring millions a year in management fees as well.

Plus, half of the new home owners required no subsidization at all so I would respectfully disagree that this is "wealth" distribution or redistribution.

Also, sennitB4, I would also point out that two of the homes are in the $240,000.00 range and are both people moving into the neighborhood. One is a dentist and the other a Medical Doctor.

This is a true mixed use development and one that at the end of the day will help repair the urban core like none other I have seen.

I suggest folks take a closer look before lobbing a Molotov into this program.

This is a much better way to turn things around than housing projects and TEE Centers.

I am cautiously optimistic, but will of course never let the apparent good blind me from any possible bad.

I am digging into the "partners" and will be looking for ways to improve this projects efficiency for sure.

Brad

seenitB4
87275
Points
seenitB4 06/22/14 - 11:56 am
3
3
I appreciate what you're doing Brad

I know you mean well & I know this is a thankless job.....but with the mishaps in governing not many would dare the move...
I don't want my tax dollars spent in your county...sorry, but that is what I feel..just the thought of having to deal with the nonsense would drive me stark raving crazy!
Lately I'm thinking we would have to move up to the lake to get peace of mind....anyway, I'm off the soapbox now...good luck Brad.

Riverman1
83996
Points
Riverman1 06/22/14 - 12:24 pm
6
3
Come On Brad

Come on, Brad. This is a Potemkin village. It’s tens of millions of dollars being thrown into a decrepit area to make it look like a successful community where the residents are happy and content. Interesting that you note a doctor and dentist bought houses there. You know that’s not the norm and that’s why you mention it. They are the successful Potemkin residents to be pointed out. I wouldn’t doubt they don’t intend to rent or resell the houses. You have this idea that the hotel tax is not the money of all the people of the county when it most certainly is. In addition, while successful people who travel pay hotel taxes wherever they stay, the residents of Laney Walker travel little and pay scant hotel taxes, I’d wager. I’m surprised they don’t make the handicapped street people get out of the neighborhood like they do in North Korea.

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 06/22/14 - 12:38 pm
1
5
LW

None of the people complaining except Dichotomy live in Richmond County and this happens almost every single time..

Seenitb4.... The money is coming from the hotel tax and not the local tax payers.. The Hampton Inn & Suites is under construction off Washington road and the Residence Inn by Marriott is underway in the Augusta Exchange area.. The proposed hotel in the CBD should become reality in the near future..

Brad Owens... Great comment and I will definitely share the good news...

Gage Creed
17226
Points
Gage Creed 06/22/14 - 12:43 pm
9
1
Bribe Money

@Brad,

So you are ok with $10.8 million being spent on 24 houses that have an average value of $200,000. While costing an average of $450,000 to build? Just because it's bribe money?

I understand you are driven to develop the "Urban Core",but why didn't Harrisburg or Barton Village get a $37.5 milliion dollar bribe?

Gage Creed
17226
Points
Gage Creed 06/22/14 - 12:46 pm
4
1
Hotel tax money..

Who collects the tax money?

Who hands over the "bribe" money?

Who else could ultimately use the hotel tax dollars?

All of this from someone who doesn't claim property ownership in Richmond County..

SAD

Riverman1
83996
Points
Riverman1 06/22/14 - 01:05 pm
6
1
"Partners"

Deke’s wife owns or owned at least one house down there. It was the one they were/are? going to turn into a half-way house. I’d be interested in what other public officials and their families have bought down there and benefit from the tens of millions being thrown down the abyss. In addition, is the public relations firm still being paid $6 thousand a month to make the place appear successful?

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 06/22/14 - 01:27 pm
2
7
''So you are ok with $10.8

''So you are ok with $10.8 million being spent on 24 houses that have an average value of $200,000. While costing an average of $450,000 to build? Just because it's bribe money?''

The $10.8 million is the cost of purchasing close to 300 lots, architects, 24 new homes, over 100 demolitions, engineers, 24 new rental units, and consultants.

Riverman1
83996
Points
Riverman1 06/22/14 - 02:44 pm
4
1
Cost of Laney Walker Houses

Every housing development has to buy the land, make it ready to build upon which often requires building streets and laying water, sewer lines and have architects design the homes. I'd say there's actually less cost involved in the Laney Walker homes because the infrastructure is in place.

deestafford
27665
Points
deestafford 06/22/14 - 02:45 pm
5
1
If business people treated their own properties/businesses...

If business people treated their own properties/businesses money they way they treat properties paid for with other people's money (OPM) they would be short lived as a business person....unless of course they were a trust fund baby or lottery winner. A person could not survive spending their own money as they approve on the board when OPM is being used.

Gage Creed
17226
Points
Gage Creed 06/22/14 - 02:58 pm
5
2
Factss

nortonguy has no issue using OPM... that's his standard MO, in fact it is his profession.

I'm certain he thinks a P & L is some new store at the mall.

Butterman
3680
Points
Butterman 06/22/14 - 05:26 pm
5
0
Bonnie and Bob
Unpublished

Thank goodness this board has two smart people like Bonnie Ruben and Bob Young. Bob Knows the HUD guidelines and Bonnie knows money and accounting. They won't miss a beat and they will insist this project does not become a bottomless black hole. I do not know much about Ms. Bryant, but her being President of the Libertarian group leads me to believe she will also be looking out for the taxpayer. Brad on the other hand seems to be willing to swallow their BS. Throwing Molotov cocktails? Nope. It's just many of us are rightfully skeptical of this program and how it came to be, especially with Augusta's history of managing these types of programs and farming things out to overpaid consultants. Riverman is right this has been a very expensive program resulting in just a handful of overpriced homes. It's all cosmetic. I have no qualms with improving the urban core, but I think the money could have been spent more effectively.

seenitB4
87275
Points
seenitB4 06/22/14 - 05:45 pm
7
2
Where we live

That shouldn't be a problem for you ctyman...I'm not living in Iraq but I'm dang sure interested in it right now...I'm not In DeKalb but that matters to me too...BECAUSE, the overflow will eventually come this way...I'm not in Texas but I want the illegals stopped....everything is connected in some way...either by taxes, military involvement, crime & etc.

The very reason Hitler was so powerful is because others looked the other way.

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 06/22/14 - 05:49 pm
1
6
The subdivisions built in the

The subdivisions built in the suburbs were previously wooded areas in the past... The Laney Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods are full of shotgun homes and not acres of woods..

The revitalization has produced more than just a couple of homes...

''New development is coming to the downtown corner of Walton Way and 11th Street. Once home to Top Notch Express car wash, the parcel at 1022 Walton Way is under development by Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial for a 14,500-square-foot center that has two confirmed tenants. Integrity Medical, a local medical equipment and supplies company, is moving across Walton Way to anchor the center. It will join Augusta-based Diablo’s Southwest Grill, which is adding its second metro shop, said Davis Beman, the director of commercial real estate with Blanchard and Calhoun. “Our hope for this neighborhood center is to attract a mix of professional, medical and retail users to support the growth in this area,” Beman said.''

Butterman
3680
Points
Butterman 06/22/14 - 05:50 pm
0
0
Remind us
Unpublished

which commissioners appointed which members of the URA board. I know Al Mason appointed Bob Young. Grady Smith appointed Bonnie Rubens. So which commissioners appointed the others?

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