Guest Column: Downtown Augusta enjoyed prosperous 2013, with bright hope ahead

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The year 2013 has been a banner year for Augusta’s Central Business District, and the Downtown Development Authority has been in the middle of these exciting accomplishments and initiatives, many of which enhance the living environment and will add to the tax base.

DEMAND FOR RESIDENTIAL housing downtown is strong with 96 percent occupancy. A recent addition to this robust market is the historic 834 Greene Street project, which was completed in September and houses six new market-rate apartments. The Vine Inn is under renovation, and construction will begin at 303 Greene and 1225 Greene early next year. These projects and many others have been championed by the DDA, and are a core component of the DDA’s mission.

The retail environment on and around Broad Street continues to be healthy. Related to the opening of the Augusta Convention Center, five buildings within a one-block radius have been purchased, and plans for renovations for retail and residential use are underway. Additionally, New Moon Cafe and The Book Tavern have completed expansion efforts in the J.B. White’s Building, and newer restaurants such as Frog Hollow and Farmhaus have made dining excursions to downtown special. Development of many such
projects has been aided by the DDA.

Many projects have been facilitated by the DDA through the Georgia Cities Loan Foundation. Projects approved by the DDA are eligible to borrow up to 40 percent of project costs at a below-market interest rate. Various DDAs in Georgia are the sole avenues for this financing, and the Augusta DDA has leveraged its role to extraordinary impact to improve downtown: $2.9 million in loans has led directly to $30 million in private investment. This investment has added 108 apartments and condominiums and 25,000 square feet of retail space to downtown’s inventory, and added $3 million to the Augusta -Richmond County tax base. We are honored to be a part of the investments that residents, entrepreneurs and the city of Augusta are making in downtown.

THIS YEAR THE DDA, with support from private partners and economic development allies, launched a comprehensive retail strategy to develop and maintain a robust retail sector. The project includes updated demographic data, retail gap analysis and a proactive recruitment of prospects with deal structuring and site planning. Downtown Augusta has been represented by our consultants at conventions in New York City, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Dallas and Orlando, Fla. While still in its infancy, an impressive prospect list is being built, and the demographic reports are promising. Downtown Augusta’s population and household demographics show significant increases.

The benefits of this initiative include job creation, growth in the tax base and encouragement for business to remain, expand or relocate, and provides a recruitment tool to major employers when positioning Augusta to potential employees and service providers. The initiative for such an effort had stalled in the city government, and the DDA’s leadership in this arena will help diversify the downtown economic base. Private contributions from stakeholders downtown speak to the importance of making our downtown a destination again for shopping, recreation and dining. We look forward to rolling out this information in early 2014.

It just keeps coming! Next quarter, a streetscape project will begin on James Brown Boulevard. With the new courthouse, library and infill development, James Brown Boulevard is a major gateway connecting Laney-Walker Boulevard to the downtown core. This $1.2 million project will include new sidewalks, trees and street furniture. This project is made possible by a grant awarded to the DDA by the Department of Transportation and matching funds by the city of Augusta.

Plans also are underway to give an Augusta landmark a much-needed facelift in 2014. The DDA has allocated $1 million in special-purpose local option sales tax funds to make improvements to Riverwalk Augusta. Riverwalk has been a popular destination for our residents and visitors, and is home to the Saturday Market and the Sunday Night Jazz Series. The latter event is hosted on a DDA-funded riverbank stage.

THE DDA BOARD of Directors has a vested interest in the success of our city center. We have engaged in initiatives that sometimes are not easy or popular, but we believe are in the best interest of our great city. Issues such as safety, cleanliness and parking will remain top priorities in 2014.

When downtown remains vibrant and healthy, Augusta reaps the benefits. We thank you for the opportunity to serve.

(The writer is chairman of the Downtown Development Authority of Augusta.)

Comments (20) Add comment
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Conservative Man
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Conservative Man 12/29/13 - 12:01 am
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Hahahaha!!!

..........ok..

countyman
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countyman 12/29/13 - 02:12 am
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CBD=boomtown

The private construction in the CBD is breathtaking and 2014 will bring unprecedented growth...

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/29/13 - 06:18 am
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West Augusta is the Jewel

The most amazing growth is in West Augusta around I-20-Washington Rd. Numerous hotels have gone up there in the past decade and another was announced recently. Washington Square is being remodeled. Costco and Cabela’s. Private enterprise leading the way. No Downtown Development Authority helping them. No $50 million TEE Center. No spending all the hotel tax from all over the county as is done downtown. It’s revealing what you can do when you simply follow the demographics and supply and demand equation instead of artificially trying to create a Potemkin village run by development authority paid bureaucrats trying to justify their existence.

This was said, "Downtown Augusta’s population and household demographics show significant increases."

I wonder what the household income in downtown Augusta is now?

Brad Owens
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Brad Owens 12/29/13 - 08:47 am
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This is awesome!

I love good satire...

Brad Owens
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Brad Owens 12/29/13 - 09:00 am
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Mike Ryan...

Can I write a FACTUAL rebuttal to this non-sense DDA propaganda?

Probably not because you all seem to be "vested" in helping these wastes of taxpayer dollars stay in business... I wonder why?

Conservative Man
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Conservative Man 12/29/13 - 11:18 am
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Agree Brad....

...this column was nothing but a 700 word info-mercial for the DDA...How about a rebuttal Mike?

Lori Davis
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Lori Davis 12/29/13 - 11:39 am
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What a joke of a Guest

What a joke of a Guest Column….. I would like for the DDA to explain how the downtown clock ended up at the airport. A clock that was an icon for downtown Augusta put in place with over $60,000 of tax payer dollars. A clock that was deemed a total loss by Travelers Insurance Company. A clock that disappeared without discussion and ended up at the airport totally repaired. Can't get the media to get interested in the insurance fraud that likely took place. Signed documents tell this story. I agree with Brad Owens. Tell both sides of the DDA story. This Authority works to help their cronies and that is the reality of it. Downtown Augusta has declined tremendously once Main Street Augusta was put out of Commission and the DDA, with their new leader took over. Defund the DDA! They are a joke and anyone who thinks differently just does not have a clue. Also, expect to see another long time downtown business leave the area in the New Year.

countyman
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countyman 12/29/13 - 12:37 pm
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CBD=Destination

The comments are hilarious because the same people always talk about the city spending additional funds in South Augusta... I don't understand the logic behind thinking the money can help South Augusta but investing into the heart of the city will do absolutely nothing...

The amount of private construction in the Augusta Exchange lately( the past five years) is much higher than Washington/I-20... The amount jumps even higher when you add the nearby ADP and T-Mobile facilities...

The Costco and Cabela's are both located off Riverwatch/I-20 and not Washington rd/I-20... The city helped in terms of the infrastructure and offering tax incentives for the new Costco.. The hotel tax is going towards the Laney Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods which are different from the CBD..

They've only begun clearing the land for new Hampton Inn but the Holiday Inn Express is already under construction downtown.. I think some people need to visit downtown and see the progress..

How can you anybody deny the private growth downtown? Please ride or walk past 851 Broad next to the common(Sprint Food & Metro Market underway).. The building is the former Belk warehouse and these are the signs of downtown reaching the tipping point.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/29/13 - 12:50 pm
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As Countyman just confirmed,

As Countyman just confirmed, West Augusta is booming.

blues550
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blues550 12/29/13 - 01:35 pm
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Welcome To Fantasy Island!
Unpublished

I often disagree with Brad but he is point on...this column hopefully is satire casue it sure isn't real world.

And that clock some of you are so bent about...it still IS IN DOWNTOWN...just go to the DDA Website and there it is!!!!

There ware rarely a weekend that we did not go downtown because some successful independent business people have some really great places to eat. And I still frequent several places during the day. but rarely do we spend an evening there.

My perception of downtown is that:
1. It has become dirty as hell.
2. There is more blight.
3. After the sun does down you really do not want to be there.
4. I used to feel safe there...no more.

Frankly, the DDA just needs to go away...and the sooner the better.

Conservative Man
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Conservative Man 12/29/13 - 03:34 pm
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Downtown is booming?

....Hahahaha!....saying it does not make it so....I've lived here all my life and spend lots of time and money downtown...I also know LOTS of business owners downtown...

And with very few exceptions they are all in a state of disbelief and despair..

I cannot quote statistics at the click of a mouse as SOME here do. I can only speak anecdotally of real people....not numbers..

And the mood is not good....

My point overall is that, whatever the current city leaders have been doing the last few years ain't working for those who actually own businesses downtown..

But the consultants and developers are raking it in....wonderful...

Lori Davis
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Lori Davis 12/29/13 - 03:42 pm
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Hey Countyman, What is your

Hey Countyman, What is your take on the fact that Augusta Citizens were not allowed a public hearing prior to the vote on the New TAD 4 which includes the Holiday Inn Express, even though it was advertised? Kwatinetz promised transparency and we got none. Dirty deals are made everyday in this city and far too many people are cheerleaders for them in this forum. Not a lot to be proud of.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/29/13 - 08:46 pm
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Correction

Countyman posted:

. . . but the Holiday Inn Express is already under construction downtown. . . .

The Holiday Inn Express is nothing more than a re-modeling. And after the re-modeler was about 95% done on his own, someone in government approached him and asked if he would like to be re-imbursed from the city treasury. Of course he said yes, and the commission awarded him a few hundred thousand dollars, after the fact.

Pitiful.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/29/13 - 08:57 pm
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Dribble, Dribble, Dribble

The commission dribbles these grants out a few hundred thousand $ at a time, and then they act "shocked" in November at budget reconciliation time, when they are $8 million in the hole.

Pitiful.

Gage Creed
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Gage Creed 12/29/13 - 09:20 pm
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But hey.. a few more years

But hey.. a few more years and the the Sprint Metro Market MAY be open open...

(eyeroll)

corgimom
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corgimom 12/29/13 - 09:27 pm
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Riverman, I read that the

Riverman, I read that the same way too!

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/29/13 - 10:16 pm
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Smoke Filled Rooms

From Lori Davis:

Hey Countyman, What is your take on the fact that Augusta Citizens were not allowed a public hearing prior to the vote on the New TAD 4?

You are on the right track, Lori, but it needs to go farther. You can see how North Augusta at least let the citizenry know about their plan to create a TIF for the ballpark, convention center and parking deck before the council, commission and BOE rammed it down their throats.

In Augusta, we didn't even know about it before it was rammed down our %*#.

It is time for Hardie Davis to get on the side of the taxpayer and get the Georgia Legislature to change the law to require a public referendum to decide on all TADs in the future. We taxpayers have been sold a bill of goods on these TADs, and we need to stop sending taxpayer dollars to these millionaire developers.

corgimom
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corgimom 12/29/13 - 10:43 pm
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When I read that story, I

When I read that story, I thought, "I wonder just how much taxpayer money was used to create that "prosperous" 2013, and how much more prosperous the taxpayers would've been if they didn't have to subsidize these wealthy developers.

badmoon426
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badmoon426 12/30/13 - 01:49 am
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The TAD Public Hearing...

...was a shameful use of government authority designed to eliminate publi input.

Even the new mouthpiece for the government and his benefactors, Matt Kwatinetz is in favor for adequate public hearings on the any economic zones or tax alloation districts. I wonder how he will reconcile this shady behavior by the local government one he re-appears on the scene for some of our favorite self-serveing philanthropists?

In my case, I am tired of seeing tax dollars enriching local self-serveing philanthropists and really funding projects to move Augusta forward for all instead of a few.

badmoon426
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badmoon426 12/30/13 - 01:57 am
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Breath Taking Growth...

...okay how about some real statistics about wins and loses with businesses in the downtown area that don't just include the 'wins' and the return on investment for the money spent. This should include all the bad public relations events such as the horrific mugging of the couple downtown.

badmoon426
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badmoon426 12/30/13 - 01:59 am
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The Augusta Marriott TEE Center...

...speaking of growth exactly where does the white elephant Marriott TEE Center sit after one year of operation? What about projected events for 2014?

Interested taxpayers would like to know.

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