New homes rejuvenate older areas

Laney-Walker, Bethlehem communities are rebuilding

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Three new cottage-style homes on Pine Street near Laney-Walker Boulevard startlingly contradict the neighborhood, where a quarter of buildings are abandoned and more than half are neglected.

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Workers rebuild homes on Pine Street near Laney-Walker Boulevard. At least 22 more homes are planned for the street.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Workers rebuild homes on Pine Street near Laney-Walker Boulevard. At least 22 more homes are planned for the street.

The homes' full-length porches hug front entrances. Brickwork and iron lattices encircle yards and contrasting pastel colors brighten outer walls.

The progress seems only a trickle. Soon it might become a flood.

After three years of quiet planning and property acquisition, construction in Laney-Walker and Bethlehem is now poised to take off.

Three more homes are being built on Pine Street and 22 more are planned. At another site -- Holley Street, just off R.A. Dent Boulevard -- new homes also have appeared.

By the end of the year, construction will be under way at five sites, said Chester Wheeler, the director of Augusta's Housing and Community Development Department. The city agency serves as the master developer for revitalization of the two neighborhoods.

"It's exciting to see this kind of development in a neighborhood that, for years, had been abandoned," Wheeler said. "People didn't think it could be accomplished, but we know it can happen. It's a matter of changing the mindset."

The Augusta Commission in 2007 passed a $1-a-night hotel tax, to be split between inner-city revitalization and the new TEE Center's operations. Laney-Walker/Bethlehem revitalization will get $37.5 million over 50 years.

The plan is to buy property and finance re-development at "catalyst" sites, pockets of land visible from the neighborhoods' major corridors.

"You create a critical mass of development, where people can see a number of activities going on. That changes the environment," Wheeler said.

Wheeler projects the $37.5 million the city spends should spark enough interest from the private sector to get a total of $99 million reinvested in Laney-Walker and Bethlehem.

The plan uses multiple strategies.

One is to invest in housing first and commercial properties second, said Jesse Wiles, a consultant for Housing and Community Development.

"There's market potential for Laney-Walker in retail, but it's driven by rooftops," he said. "For example, in the Bethlehem neighborhood, well over 40 percent of properties are abandoned. That's not enough rooftops to attract grocery and convenience stores."

Wiles said 35 percent to 60 percent of houses should be owner-occupied and rents need to reach market rates and be unsubsidized. That tells the market the neighborhood is stable.

"Then, retail will come," he said.

Another strategy is to make inner-city redevelopment easier by removing barriers. Developers like to build on empty land, not hassle with neighborhoods with a multitude of owners and buildings in various stages of disrepair, Wheeler said.

That's why Housing and Community Development focused on purchasing contiguous lots first, Wiles said. A full-time team approached owners all over the country and cleared titles on their properties.

"We had a significant amount of success. Seven out of 10 owners were willing sellers," Wiles said.

The city demolished dilapidated structures, Wheeler said.

It also assists the developers by performing engineering studies, creating design guidelines, providing a marketing campaign for the revitalization project and a brokerage firm to manage sales.

"The developers don't have to deal with things they normally would have to. It's a piece of cake for them now," Wheeler said.

A final strategy is to leverage public dollars to attract private investment.

Housing and Community Development offers low-interest loans to residential and commercial developers for up to 25 percent of construction costs. That can make a project affordable, Wheeler said.

Similar incentives are given to home buyers and also to people who already own a home who want to make repairs. To qualify for a loan, renovators must bring their buildings up to code.

Martin Melaver is a third-generation real estate planner, developer and broker from Savannah and the marketing consultant for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem project.

"We're in a very tough economy, and these neighborhoods have endured four decades of decline," he said. "That being said, this is about as brilliant a strategy as I've ever seen."

Over 16 million Americans are looking to move back into urban cores, where they can live, work and play in a neighborhood that has a sense of community, Melaver said.

Cities that capitalize on that trend will reap rewards.

Laney-Walker and Bethlehem might be two of Augusta's poorest neighborhoods but, unlike other downtown master plans, theirs is funded.

"We have all the pieces we need to make it happen," he said. "I believe the biggest hurdle is just getting Augustans to believe in it."

Reach Carole Hawkins at (706) 823-3341, or carole.hawkins@augustachronicle.com.

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usapatriot
0
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usapatriot 02/13/11 - 01:08 am
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Good luck, but once a ghetto,

Good luck, but once a ghetto, always a ghetto. In the last 50 years of welfare, Section 8, block grants, HUD, urban renewal, etc, what has changed?

Govt cannot create success. Demand for products, housing create success. Consumers who can afford housing create demand. Just because ARC wants new housing and development in that area doesn't mean people want to and can afford to move there.

ARC, in your efforts to create more tax base to spend, you've made a tax and will be collecting $37 million from citizens. You've decided you can spend that money more wisely than citizens can.

You've decided to be the civil engineer rather than the private sector.

I agree, the vacant homes need to go. But give owners 30 days notice, bulldoze and sue for expenses. You should not be using tax money to build your visions.

You know, sometimes the status quo is ok. Take a chill pill.

double_standard
166
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double_standard 02/13/11 - 01:22 am
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Patriot like it or not this

Patriot like it or not this is more than just arc's doing. Its this or toll roads. And looking at some of the renovations going on downtown laney walker is prime real estate. The CSRA wouldn't survive without the government and Augusta is at the center of it all.

Carleton Duvall
6305
Points
Carleton Duvall 02/13/11 - 07:40 am
0
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Revitalization of these

Revitalization of these neighborhoods is important. Hopefully, private money will supplement public money for this project. If that does not happen it will most likely be a failure. Public housing alone does not make a
viable neighborhood.

DuhJudge
206
Points
DuhJudge 02/13/11 - 08:52 am
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I don't see why planners

I don't see why planners supplied with taxpayer revenue ignore the basics though. Why do people move anywhere in particular? What is the primary ingredient that motivates home investment anywhere and everywhere? Superior schools. So if the school in the neighborhood has their emphasis in the right place the people will buy. Because then the homeowner has some confidence that the home value may appreciate. This is basic and the only plan that has worked for 50 years.

countyman
20627
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countyman 02/13/11 - 12:01 pm
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The money spent in Laney

The money spent in Laney Walker and Bethlehem is coming from a hotel tax... I think some people should actually drive through Laney Walker sometime.. I mean drive around the side streets and not just the main road.. While there are still several undesirable areas left in Laney Walker and Bethlehem.. The revitalized areas in Laney Walker definitely don't reflect a ''ghetto'.. Several of the houses have already been sold... Gentrification is happening all around america, and it's finally hit Augusta.... There will be alot more private investment in the future...

Empty nesters, gay people, and young professionals start out the gentrification process. Then families with children began to move in...

Having the best school in the entire state of Georgia and two other highly rated schools located downtown and in the inner city helps the process(Davidson, CT Walker, and AR Johnson)....

I'm very excited to see major development happening downtown in the Central Business District. Along with the huge amounts of development in the inner city(Olde Town, East Augusta, Laney Walker, Bethlehem, Harrisburg)... This is a great time to watch the city of Augusta grow up..

countyman
20627
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countyman 02/13/11 - 11:47 am
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Laney Walker and Bethlehem

Laney Walker and Bethlehem were two of the areas mayor Deke discussed at the Mayor's Institute on City Design conference this week.. Six mayor's from around the country were asked to attend the conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico...

http://chronicle.augusta.com/latest-news/2011-02-08/copenhaver-present-s...

Mayor Deke Copenhaver will be a guest presenter at the Mayor's Institute on City Design conference being held Wednesday through Friday in Santa Fe, N.M.

Copenhaver will address four Augusta initiatives in the works and funded through a $900,000 grant that advance the Augusta Sustainable Development Agenda aka Richmond County master plan, he said in a news release.

The initiatives include redevelopment of neighborhoods around Paine College, Georgia Health Sciences University and Southgate Shopping Center; reconfiguring a Georgia Department of Transportation plan to widen 15th Street; revising codes to facilitate redevelopment; and creating an implementation plan for developing green, affordable housing within the plan's priority corridor, which follows 15th Street from downtown to the former Regency Mall.

Cadence
219
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Cadence 02/13/11 - 12:27 pm
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"Over 16 million Americans

"Over 16 million Americans are looking to move back into urban cores, where they can live, work and play in a neighborhood that has a sense of community, Melaver said."
Right. I know I have been dying to move down to the Laney Walker area. And will the people who already live in the area be able to afford to buy one of these new houses in their neighborhoods? Or are they out of luck?

WW1949
19
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WW1949 02/13/11 - 01:46 pm
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countryman, while I am glad

countryman, while I am glad the effort is being made to clean up the area. Where do all the undesirables that live in those areas go? Granted there are alot of decent law abiding citizens in those areas but there is also alot of the criminal elemant. Just ask the decent people in those areas and you will see.

WW1949
19
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WW1949 02/13/11 - 01:50 pm
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In Harrisburg a friend of

In Harrisburg a friend of mine says he was robbed walking up a alley and just this week an employee of mine was flaged down by two people walking up the street my business is own and asked if he had a cell phone to call 911. They were just robbed in broad daylight by 4 men. The criminal element just moves from area to area with their entitlement money.We keep our doors locked all the time as do other businesses in the area.

countyman
20627
Points
countyman 02/13/11 - 03:33 pm
0
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The undesirable element will

The undesirable element will go where they can afford to live... The criminal element won't be able to survive anytime homeowners move in... That's why a neighborhood like Olde Town is so much further along compared to a Harrisburg, Laney Walker, Bethlehem, and East Augusta.. Several professionals, students, etc live in Olde Town.. Harrisburg is much further along than LW, Bethlehem, etc... The part of Harrisburg facing the Hill is still very nice..

Of course neighborhoods in transition still have crime problems, but the violent crime rate decreases when newer and more affluent residents move in..

Just My Opinion
5885
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Just My Opinion 02/13/11 - 03:53 pm
0
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Well, this wasn't my first

Well, this wasn't my first thought, but building homes is better than the alternative of nothing happening but the status quo. Not sure who is going to move in, but it HAS GOT to be upwardly mobile people, otherwise the place will quickly go back down the drain. Doesn't matter if it's black yuppies or white yuppies, but it's essential. Has to be someone who gives a darn about where they live and won't mind working hard to maintain it. So, that definitely leaves out people dependent on welfare...they just don't have the disposable income to maintain what they have. The success of the area would ultimately benefit us all.

fred1
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fred1 02/13/11 - 07:49 pm
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The houses had been there for

The houses had been there for six months last time I was on Pine Street and none had sold. The air conditioners are built with steel cages on them and security systems are also included and because you'll need them. This seems like a tip that you shouldn't spend $150,000+ to move there when better, safer areas are available for the same money. But, you might not get tax payers to help you buy your house in a better area, you'll have to do it on your own.

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