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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alfrrst4
18
Points
alfrrst4 10/29/09 - 01:50 pm
0
0
The city of Augusta needs to

The city of Augusta needs to move forward in building our city to become a place where businessmen will bring their companys and plants and jobs will surely come. Blotted lots,run down streets, neighborhoods needs up lifting and crime needs to be curved. I think the police department is doing a wonderful job, yet they never get credit for it from the city as a whole. The Mayor of Augusta is doing a great job, and he has a great team, but until he gets the power he needs to run his team, we wont get nothing done right. Its time for Augusta to move forward, we are a great city.

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
10203
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 10/29/09 - 02:30 pm
0
0
You have to have somewhere to

You have to have somewhere to bring those business owners and directors and a blighted neighborhood is not the place. That's part of the plan for the TEE center. I agree the pork for Betty Beard should never have been tied to it! The idea of putting a hotel between the courthouse and JB arena is hilarious. Got anymore?

corgimom
36778
Points
corgimom 10/29/09 - 02:37 pm
0
0
Companies bring their

Companies bring their companies in to a place because it's financially advantageous to them, not because of a TEE center or a hotel. They come in because of tax breaks, cheap labor, cheap land, concessions, etc. Not because of hotels and TEE centers. As long as Augusta has terrible schools, and as long as the statistics say that there are a lot of dropouts and poor people, and as long as it's expensive to ship product from Augusta, they won't come. They want a decent pool of labor to draw from. You could build the Taj Mahal II and they wouldn't come.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 10/29/09 - 02:47 pm
0
0
Interesting that they could

Interesting that they could bring Mr Wiles up here from Jacksonville, who will tell them what they want to hear, yet they cannot bring Dr Heywood Sanders here who may tell them that they are about to make a $60 million mistake.

Brad Owens
4859
Points
Brad Owens 10/29/09 - 03:40 pm
0
0
This TEE center is an idiotic

This TEE center is an idiotic investment now. It is ten years behind the convention boom of the 90's and will not even match what Macon has to offer. It is being pushed by a bunch of selfserving groups who could not care less if we lose all the $100,000,000.00 invested. And WIZ, I am about sick of hearing your comments of how 'we common people just don't get it'. Oh we get it alright. A bunch of rich guys who own a hotel and properties want the government to buy them a new addition and their land with tax money. Then they want us (the tax payer) to pay them to run it. If the project makes money they get half, if it loses money (like all the other fantasy projects these same rich guys said would float the entire town with a flood of tourist dollars) then the tax payer gets the entire bill. We 'get it' WIZ, it is called corporate welfare and Morris, with all his posturing on so-called 'conservative' values, has been the SINGLE largest recipient of in our city. You all are a bunch of Socialist. That is waht it is when you take from someone and give it to someone who did not earn it so that they benefit directly from someone else's labor. Too Everloving Expensive! (TEE). Revote it!

MrAlwaysRight
0
Points
MrAlwaysRight 10/29/09 - 05:01 pm
0
0
A bunch of rich guys who own

A bunch of rich guys who own a hotel and properties want the government to buy them a new addition and their land with tax money. Then they want us (the tax payer) to pay them to run it. If the project makes money they get half, if it loses money (like all the other fantasy projects these same rich guys said would float the entire town with a flood of tourist dollars) then the tax payer gets the entire bill.... See also the Federal Toxic Asset Program, it works exactly as you describe. Nothing new here folks, move along.

thewiz0oz
9
Points
thewiz0oz 10/29/09 - 07:37 pm
0
0
Brad -- there is no one more

Brad -- there is no one more dangerous than the person who doesn't know what he doesn't know -- the biggest tax payer in Augusta is Billy Morris -- reminds me of that special tax paid by some downtown property owners a few years ago to cover the work done when the parking deck used by the Board of Education was built and other work done -- everybody paying it complained for years & wishing it was over -- about 6 months before it expired the property owners had the chance to renew & most said hell no -- until they realized that Billy Morris was paying the biggest amount & at the last minute tried to get it extended -- but too late -- what make someone common Brad is his/her ability to understand an issue & be objective about it -- the so-called tax payers you are talking about pay chump-change compared to those who create jobs and drive economic development -- everyone determines his own place in society dependent upon his work ethic, education and commitment to the common good -- you might want to check out a mirror real close the next time you walk by one

corgimom
36778
Points
corgimom 10/29/09 - 09:05 pm
0
0
Julian Wiz, you are a

Julian Wiz, you are a complete snob, and it's attitudes like yours that people are fed up with. Maybe to you it's chump change, but to people that are struggling to make the mortgage, it's a lot. Be objective about THIS- the citizens of Augusta are struggling, and struggling badly. Most are not rich, like you are. Since you think it's such a good idea, why don't you pay the chump change? Where were you when the Golf Hall of Fame tanked so badly? Your arrogance is disgusting.

Riverman1
90678
Points
Riverman1 10/29/09 - 10:27 pm
0
0
World Series musings, while I

World Series musings, while I hope the Yankees lose. I appreciate everything Mr. Morris has done for Augusta. He has given much financially and with leadership to help his home town. But, as with Joe Bowles, I don't have to support his views always. A new TEE is an issue, I, and many others, question because of the enormous cost. The vacancy at Ft. Discovery brought many over to the side that says use it at a fraction of the cost. The Ft. Discovery vacancy surprised those pushing a new $40 million TEE and they are now coming up with the premise that the Ft. Discovery layout cannot have a big enough ballroom. Well, when did that become a requirment? Another thing thrown out is that Ft. Discoery will soon be sold and provide a tax base. Still waiting on that and I'd like to see a CPA prove the taxes on it will pay for a new TEE. 11:24 and the game is over. Yankees won. Let's hope the carpetbagging Yankees don't win this issue and have taxpayers hiding our silverware in the wells again.

Brad Owens
4859
Points
Brad Owens 10/30/09 - 04:15 am
0
0
Uhhh WIZ, wrong again buddy.

Uhhh WIZ, wrong again buddy. i love it when you so-called 'educated' folks try to tell we common folks about what we do and don't know. Give me break, I created a company from NOTHING and now have over 600 employees and growing here. I make a payroll each month and pay more than my fair share of taxes in both America and here. And let me correct you, Mr. Morris pays property taxes on the property he owns and that is a lot because as a rich guy he owns alot. If you compare my bank account with my holdings you will see I pay a lot too buddy. AGAIN, this is about CORPORATE WELFARE and if you off set what Morris pays in property taxes with what he gets FREE from the city it makes his contribution 'chump change'. How about the MILLIONS in UDAG grants he got and NEVER had to pay back? The one I was at the vote for would almost plug the hole in the budget this year alone (7 million and 'change'). I see where Morris has cut all of his employess pay, is that the type of 'high paying' jobs for those who don't have any you speak of that he will create from this $38,000,000.00? You all are Socialist and Hypocrites.

jb5365
0
Points
jb5365 11/06/09 - 03:22 am
0
0
Gee, wish I could get someone

Gee, wish I could get someone to build ME a new house! And everyone else pays for it? Now, what was that about Socialism???

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