TEE panel told about negatives of gridlock

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For the second meeting of the Augusta Commission's TEE center subcommittee, Mayor Deke Copenhaver had a consultant explain that it's not just construction of a trade, exhibit and event center that's at stake if commissioners can't end six months of gridlock.

Also at stake is a plan to generate nearly $100 million in economic development to rebuild the blighted Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods -- with the vast majority coming from the private sector, according to Jesse Wiles, the president of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Asset Property Disposition, Inc.

"Cities throughout the country would love to have the opportunity to do this," Mr. Wiles said.

When most cities want to revitalize their worst neighborhoods, they have to rely on federal grants with limiting strings attached, Mr. Wiles said. This plan would use local dollars -- specifically, proceeds from a $1-a-night hotel fee, or transportation fee, enacted last year to pay for TEE center operations, Laney-Walker/Bethlehem projects and subsidizing the public transit system.

Under a deal worked out in 2007, when Commissioner Betty Beard gave Commissioner Don Grantham the sixth vote to put the exposition center on Reynolds Street and have it operated by Augusta Riverfront LLC, $750,000 per year in bed fee proceeds was to go toward the inner city for 50 years for a total of $37.5 million.

Since then, the deal has unraveled in a split along racial lines on the commission. Voters approved $20 million for the TEE center in a 2005 sales tax referendum, but architects say it's going to cost nearly twice that. Black commissioners have been unwilling to approve issuing bonds to build it for $38 million with a $12 million to $17 million parking deck and have expressed interest in changing sites; white commissioners contend the hotel fee -- and therefore inner city projects -- can't continue without the TEE center because the money has to be used to generate tourism.

The five-member subcommittee was formed last month to recommend a compromise, then the mayor put meetings on hold while the Richmond County Sheriff's Office investigated the attempted bribery case involving attorney David Fry, who allegedly offered Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason and Commissioner Corey Johnson parking deck proceeds in exchange for voting yes on the TEE center.

The subcommittee met for the first time last week, with Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Barry White explaining how multiple sites were studied for the TEE center, and the Reynolds Street location was by far the best.

One subcommittee member, Commissioner Corey Johnson, said afterward that he wasn't impressed. He didn't attend Wednesday's meeting. The other members, the mayor and commissioners Joe Bowles, J.R. Hatney and Joe Jackson, were all present.

Mr. Wiles, who the city hired to oversee the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem Neighborhood Action Plan, said work had already begun, but it's ground to a halt because of a lack of money. Bonds need to be issued to raise start-up funds, he said. While $750,000 per year gives the city enough to make payments, it's not enough to get much done.

The hotel fee has generated about $1.5 million since collections began in April 2008, with $850,000 spent on the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem initiative.

"Essentially, we're stopped at four houses and 15 demolitions on Pine Street, without further funding," Mr. Wiles said.

He said he has 103 properties with a total $1.6 million value under contract, but has no money to close and sellers are losing interest.

He showed commissioners how salvageable homes would be rehabbed and the worst ones would be demolished and replaced. Architects, engineers, builders, developers and marketing and public relations firms have all been hired through the Procurement department, he said.

Mr. Copenhaver said for next week's meeting, yet to be scheduled, he'll bring in developer Courtland Dusseau, who wants to build a Hyatt hotel beside the Augusta Common if the TEE center is built on Reynolds.

After that, the committee will start hashing out solutions, but first he wants to clear up misinformation and show that both initiatives are already "a good ways down the tracks."

Mr. Hatney said afterward that he still sees the TEE center and Laney-Walker/Bethlehem as two separate projects, and he's trying to get equitable funding for the latter.

"I'm hoping we can resolve this, so we can go on," he said.

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

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jb5365
0
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jb5365 10/29/09 - 02:31 am
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Hmmm, let`s see, millions on

Hmmm, let`s see, millions on a project that MIGHT work while firing teachers, cops, trashmen, any sort of public transportation to assuage SOME businesses and SOME people? Yep, sounds like a Republican bunch to me...

omnomnom
3964
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omnomnom 10/29/09 - 02:45 am
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jb5365, members of both the

jb5365, members of both the republican and democrat parties have been bought and sold.

jb5365
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jb5365 10/29/09 - 03:55 am
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Yes, but at least the Dems

Yes, but at least the Dems sometimes screw up and do something that is beneficial to most...

Riverman1
83572
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Riverman1 10/29/09 - 04:49 am
0
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$100 million in the Laney

$100 million in the Laney Walker area? Yeah, buddy.

thewiz0oz
9
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thewiz0oz 10/29/09 - 05:42 am
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I'm not too sure that the

I'm not too sure that the good residents of Augusta would know how to manage the $millions that would come in from an adequate Trade & Exhibit Center and the new hotel - maybe we would be better off just paying extra property taxes and then require each neighborhood to keep its own areas repaired -- it's like the lottery winner that never made over $30K annually winning $10 million -- in 5 years he's broke & bankrupt -- yep -- stop the significant extra income that would come from completing the TEE Center & everybody can suffer together -- misery loves company

bettyboop
7
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bettyboop 10/29/09 - 05:53 am
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Hey hatney the projects go

Hey hatney the projects go together sir.....hand in hand. just like when the deal was cut with ""backingstabbing betty""..no TEE Center.... no cash for the delapidated laney walker area...deal with it !

justus4
99
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justus4 10/29/09 - 06:50 am
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Is this Ground Hog Day? How
Unpublished

Is this Ground Hog Day? How do they keep bringing this thing up? And without any new material, just the same people saying the exact same thing over & over again...and what about the honest citizens, who believe that the entire project have been compromised because of attempted bribe of two elected officials. (compromised means where trust was once there - it's now gone) With that matter alleged to be under investigation, how can any honest person continue to keep a straight face in discussing the TEE? That matter must be concluded and concluded in such a manner that suspicions are put to rest - probably won't happen, but it's always good to hope.

concernednative
28
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concernednative 10/29/09 - 07:02 am
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jb5365, sad to say but your

jb5365, sad to say but your 3:55am post is why I am a dem. The dems at least let lower to middle income people feed at the trough too. Repubs only allow the fat cats to the table.

concernednative
28
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concernednative 10/29/09 - 07:05 am
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Jacksonville, did a good job

Jacksonville, did a good job with their revitalization efforts. They gave grants/loans to rehab homes (my frat brother really fixed up one nicely) and they followed it up with neighborhood watches and increased police presence. I haven't been to that part of town in J-ville in a few years but it was going well a while back. Don't know if Augusta has the young upwardly mobile crowd who wants the opportunity for home ownership that was the staple of the jville plan along with the elderly who had always lived in the inner city and wanted it to rebound.

lifelongresidient
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lifelongresidient 10/29/09 - 07:59 am
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concerned, that's the

concerned, that's the problem....there's not enuff police protection to make a revitalized inner city work. what fool in their right mind would move to the inner city that has inadequate police protection, rampant crime, drugs and prostitution are still on-going and i guess the backward thinking morons on the 8th floor believe that "just build a house and they will move back"...see the townhome development project on 9th street...3 units built for 140,000 each and only 1 sold and development stopped at that point. so before the inner city can be developed it must be cleaned up and people must be shown tht it is safe, if not then the city will be buying abandoned houses from the developer because they could not sell....oh by the way hey joe, still waiting on the feasibility/demographic studies and/or marketing analysis that will back up your contention that the TEE center will be a viable project

TechLover
15
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TechLover 10/29/09 - 08:00 am
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How about private funds

How about private funds building a new hotel near the existing James Brown Arena or Bell Auditorium? Maybe because the right people don't own the land?

humbleopinion
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humbleopinion 10/29/09 - 08:04 am
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Yes "concernednative" that is

Yes "concernednative" that is why you are a Dem. YOU want to feed at the trough. But remember....SOMEBODY has to put the food INTO the trough. THOSE people don't get the breaks. That is why the producers of this country are "fed up". It's time for the HOGS at the trough to start working for their own food, instead of laying around waiting for the producers to give more. Of course the Democrats always want to feed the hogs with somebody else's food. Remember this...."Socialism is great, but eventually you run out of OTHER peoples money".

humbleopinion
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humbleopinion 10/29/09 - 08:05 am
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October 29, 2009........The

October 29, 2009........The only day that Justus4 has posted something without RACE being an issue.

Little Lamb
45858
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Little Lamb 10/29/09 - 08:07 am
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The article starts off by

The article starts off by saying the speaker is a "consultant." Yes, I wonder how much we citizens of Augusta paid Jesse Wiles, the president of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Asset Property Disposition, Inc.? I'll bet he didn't come up here cheap.

Little Lamb
45858
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Little Lamb 10/29/09 - 08:09 am
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The Laney Walker-Bethlehem

The Laney Walker-Bethlehem backroom deal is the greatest reason to KILL the TEE Center. These two items should never have been married together. To impose a new tax to give to property owners in Laney Walker and Bethlehem is a rat hole with no bottom.

corgimom
32181
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corgimom 10/29/09 - 08:29 am
0
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Whatever happened to the idea

Whatever happened to the idea that using bed tax money for Laney-Walker was illegal?

MrAlwaysRight
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MrAlwaysRight 10/29/09 - 08:50 am
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I agree Little Lamb: separate

I agree Little Lamb: separate the TEE center from the ghetto funding. Let each pass or fail on it's own merits. It'll never happen. See also using reconciliation to pass a healtchare bill. It's the political way of getting things done.

MrAlwaysRight
0
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MrAlwaysRight 10/29/09 - 08:52 am
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Jacksonville FL is not a good

Jacksonville FL is not a good example of anything. See also Corinne Brown. I spent two weeks there trying to hire personel. It was the longest year of my life.

TechLover
15
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TechLover 10/29/09 - 08:55 am
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humble: "It's time for the

humble: "It's time for the HOGS at the trough to start working for their own food, instead of laying around waiting for the producers to give more. " Please tell that to Billy Morris ad Julian Osbon.

themaninthemirror
0
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themaninthemirror 10/29/09 - 09:01 am
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The Augusta government is

The Augusta government is like people in the lottery line. We can't afford our own home,but we need our Cadillac's and cell phones, and if there is money left over after we buy lottery tickets we will buy food.

dougk
3
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dougk 10/29/09 - 09:10 am
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Based on my calculations,
Unpublished

Based on my calculations, $37.5 million over the next 50 years will buy 1339 gastric bypass surgeries....27 a year.

mable8
2
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mable8 10/29/09 - 09:12 am
0
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It isn't about what Mr Wiles

It isn't about what Mr Wiles wants, but what the people who live here want--if the people say no, then the idea should be shelved. After all, it is NOT Mr Wiles pocketbook that the taxes come from; it is the citizens who will ultimately foot the bill. Seems to me, Mr Wiles needs to go back to FLA and leave GA alone.

MadSnapper
64
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MadSnapper 10/29/09 - 10:35 am
0
0
How many lower to middle

How many lower to middle income dems are eating at Obama's $30,000 fundraiser troughs?

MrAlwaysRight
0
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MrAlwaysRight 10/29/09 - 10:51 am
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Shhh Snapper. Someone may

Shhh Snapper. Someone may actually realize he's an elitist white guy.

themaninthemirror
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themaninthemirror 10/29/09 - 11:15 am
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They sound like little

They sound like little children fighting," If we can't have our TEE center, then you can't have your sidewalks and paved streets. We'll show you!

thewiz0oz
9
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thewiz0oz 10/29/09 - 11:44 am
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Mr. Hatney's comments are

Mr. Hatney's comments are interesting -- he said that he still sees the TEE center and Laney-Walker/Bethlehem as two separate projects, and he's trying to get equitable funding for the latter."I agree with him on that count -- He needs to put together a public-private partnership -- let the land owners of LWB put up half the money to be matched with public funds -- 100% public funds means build something that the residents will soon destroy -- no investment by the land owners means no pride in ownership -- meanwhile the procrastination going on by the Commission is costing the community over $1 million a month in lost opportunity -- dollars that bypass Augusta rushing to another community -- if you snooze you lose

concernednative
28
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concernednative 10/29/09 - 12:18 pm
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humble, you maybe rich maybe

humble, you maybe rich maybe not. But the repubs believe in corporate welfare and tax breaks for the wealthy. Those that need it less. If the govt is going to spend $1 it doesn't need to go to those that have it all. I mean Bush cut taxes for the wealthy with two wars. Ok, borrow from China, send kids to war, but you rich folks need to pay a little less in taxes just makes no sense to me. I would rather have seen the war not run of deficits and left taxes were they were. The tax rates were lower than Reagan era already were we had unprecedented growth as repubs so often remind us.

concernednative
28
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concernednative 10/29/09 - 12:28 pm
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Hatney, is right they are

Hatney, is right they are seperate plans. What in the heck do they have to do with each other than a backroom deal with an outgoing commissioner. Gratham, is a thorn in Augusta's side I realize it more and more each and everyday. He is too much of a throwback of the old meeting before the meeting days. He couldn't care less about sunshine laws. Hatney, fight on to get them seperated from each other. Right now the Laney-Walker/Bethelem revitalization is the equivalant of an earmark/pork project to Beard's district to buy her vote like in the federal govt. Augusta doesn't have the money to start going down that path.

MrAlwaysRight
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MrAlwaysRight 10/29/09 - 01:09 pm
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The TEE center was approved

The TEE center was approved and tax money collected to build it. To allow the TEE center to be put to another vote because of changes in circumstance, would be akin to allowing another Presidential election this fall to allow for the difference between the promises campaigned upon and the actions following the election. Neither is proper. Neither is legal. The time for "due diligence" is BEFORE approving a tax, not long after. Sorta like investigating a candidate BEFORE electing them. You made your bed, now you must build what you voted to build. To do anything less will cost Richmond County in real dollars and more importantly, the little credibility left in SPLOST packages.

Riverman1
83572
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Riverman1 10/29/09 - 02:12 pm
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Who said build a hotel near

Who said build a hotel near the JB Arena? That made me laugh lots.

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