New authority to be discussed

Downtown Development Authority members, miffed about being passed over in the building of the TEE center and inner city revitalization, met Monday with City Administrator Fred Russell, who told them it was business, not personal.

Mr. Russell told them the city's legal and financial advisers believe forming a new Urban Redevelopment Authority will be the most efficient way to issue the $35 million in bonds needed to build the Reynolds Street trade, exhibit and event center and to stimulate redeveloping the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods, part of a plan Mr. Russell unveiled to commissioners last week.

He met Monday with Downtown Development Authority Chairman Steven Kendrick, Executive Director Margaret Woodard, authority attorney Byrd Warlick and board members Cameron Nixon and Julian Roberts, according to Ms. Woodard.

Mr. Kendrick said the possibility of a "sunset clause," which would disband the new authority after its work is done so it doesn't compete with the DDA, was mentioned Monday.

"We had a pretty good explanation of what the rationale was," Mr. Kendrick said. "We seemed to be pretty much satisfied, from what I gathered."

Mr. Russell said the five-member redevelopment authority would focus solely on the projects, issuing the bonds, then having two subcommittees, one for the TEE center, another for Laney-Walker and Bethlehem.

"I'm looking for something that ties those two projects together with a focus on getting them done," Mr. Russell said. "DDA has a lot on its plate."

Whether Mr. Russell moves forward with the plan will depend on what commissioners tell him at today's meeting. It's on the agenda, and interviews with commissioners indicated they're likely to pose some pointed questions.

The TEE center and the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods have been intertwined since 2007, when the commission approved the TEE center's site and operating agreement under a compromise that set aside $750,000 a year from a $1 hotel fee for inner city revitalization.

The plan Mr. Russell presented last week involves a total of $92.5 million in projects, including a $17 million parking deck and a $38 million convention center. When voters approved the event center in 2005, the price was $20 million. Of the $35 million in bonds, $9 million would be to kick-start neighborhood redevelopment, with $2 million of that debt being issued through the city's new tax allocation district.

Betty Beard, whose district includes downtown and who helped broker the 2007 compromise, said she's concerned about the city's ability to pay back the bonds. She said this might not be the best time to move forward with the TEE center, and had the vote happened now it wouldn't have been the right time to approve revitalizing the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.