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A field of dreams

City will need financing plan to get Golf and Gardens property

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Mayor Deke Copenhaver is warming up to ask Augusta commissioners to authorize city staff to create a financing package for a downtown baseball stadium, condominiums and retail complex on the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property.

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Conceptual drawings of a downtown stadium show an outfield backing up to the river,  office and condo buildings, and a steamboat-shaped restaurant at the levee level.  Special
Special
Conceptual drawings of a downtown stadium show an outfield backing up to the river, office and condo buildings, and a steamboat-shaped restaurant at the levee level.

The package, which would outline the proposed project and means of financing it, is needed for the city to get the property from the state this year, and drawing it up would cost nothing, the mayor said.

Without it, three years of working with Gov. Sonny Perdue and the State Properties Commission on acquiring the abandoned 17-acre tract will be all for naught, and the city will be back to square one, he said.

"There's a bond attached to the property that will not be paid off for another six years, so the large potential is that if we don't get something done this year, that property will sit empty, grow weeds and produce no tax revenue for the next six years," Copenhaver said.

In addition to paying $2.8 million for the property, possibly leasing it for six years, the city will have to hustle because the transfer must be approved by the Legislature this session and be signed off on by the governor.

It's a field of dreams for the mayor and those who support a new $38.7 million stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets.

But to others, including most Augusta commissioners, it's fantasy baseball -- a risky venture that could end up on taxpayers' backs.

The mayor said it's too early for commissioners to make that call.

"In order to support it or not support it, the first thing we have to have is that finance package, and we're not detailing anything solid right now," he said. "So until I can get their go-ahead to give our staff the directive of putting the finance package together, I don't think they can make an educated decision whether or not they support it."

It's a hard sell for most commissioners.

"Let somebody else do the plan, somebody that's interested in investing down there," Commissioner J.R. Hatney said. "You can't do a plan free."

The mayor talked to Commissioner Don Grantham on Monday about using the city's tax allocation districts and private investment to finance the project, but didn't convince him that the direct expenses won't be a future expense for the taxpayers.

"I don't see how you're going to avoid that," Grantham said.

The package the mayor presented Grantham didn't include what GreenJackets owner Cal Ripken Jr. would contribute toward making the facility viable, he said.

The mayor and Ripken Baseball executives contend that such ventures have been highly successful in other cities, such as Greenville, S.C.

Grantham also wondered who would pay for the stadium.

"Are we looking to the taxpayers, or is this a private investment?" he asked.

Copenhaver said it would be a public-private partnership and that when he submitted a proposal to the state, Jim Jacoby, the developer of the Atlantic Station in Atlanta, was on board as a partner.

"He is still a part of the project should it go forward," he said. "The portion of the property he's looking at -- one of the ideas he has for that property would be high-end residential condominiums, this being based on the fact that by the time you would complete this project the economy would have returned.

"What we're talking about is a mixed-use sports and entertainment facility that would have retail, eventually restaurants, banks. It would not just be a sole-use baseball stadium. They don't build them like that anymore."

The mayor said acquisition of the property requires that it have a project attached to it.

"If we do not have a project attached to it -- and nobody's come up with a Plan B -- there's no way we will get the property," he said.

The mayor says there can't be any specifics about the proposed project until a financing plan is put together, but specifics are what commissioners say they want.

When asked whether he would support authorizing city staff to draw up a financing plan, Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason said: "Plan for what? Is that all in one, or are you talking about options? Perhaps a baseball stadium? Perhaps condos? Or are you talking about one thing, or something all together? Or are you taking about options?

"It could be a mixed-use development that could be the best thing to do down there. It could be condos like we were supposed to have at Reynolds Street that never happened. I don't know."

The state could assign the property to another state entity, such as the Medical College of Georgia or Augusta State University, said George Snelling, a member of the State Properties Commission from Augusta.

"I'm not advocating that," he said. "I believe that could be a possibility. The state would want to see a viable project. The governor wants the state to get the absolute best deal it can."

The Georgia Golf Hall of Fame Botanical Gardens opened in 2001 and closed in June 2007, during a drought that killed many of the plants when the water was cut off.

Later that year, the city began maintaining the property, but it stopped last year as part of cost-cutting measures.

Copenhaver maintains that the baseball stadium is still the best hope for reviving the property. Last year, the state put out a request for proposals for other uses, and the only others were for a Goodwill Industries job-training center and an assisted-living complex.

Lake Olmstead Stadium

Cal Ripken Jr. bought the Augusta GreenJackets in 2005 and renovated Lake Olmstead Stadium.

Five years later, the stadium is the third smallest in the South Atlantic League.

A downtown stadium committee visited other cities in 2007. Released in February 2008, a feasibility study projected a new stadium could bring up to 350,000 people downtown each year.

Commissioners see tough sell
AGAINST

ALVIN MASON: The mayor pro tem said he wants to see numbers and options.

"It's kind of hard to vote for something you haven't seen."

DON GRANTHAM: "If anything needs to be done right now, it is to spruce up the baseball stadium we've got and do the best we can during this economic downturn," Grantham said. "It's just not wise to spend money on projects that will cost you added expense for the future. That's what a baseball stadium is. I don't think we'll fill it up."

J.R. HATNEY: He said he thinks private money should buy the land and build the stadium.

COREY JOHNSON: "I can't at this time. ... I just think we've got too many other things going on right now, and we just need to focus on finishing the judicial center, and also the TEE center and the things going on on Laney-Walker/Bethlehem. We still haven't gotten the money for that yet. The baseball stadium is something we need to deal with -- if we deal with it -- at a later date."

JERRY BRIGHAM: He said he wouldn't vote to have a financial package put together until he knew where the money would come from to buy the land and build a stadium. "We don't have any money," he said.

JIMMY SMITH: Augusta already has a good stadium that it has spent money on, he said, and parking would be a problem if one were built on the Golf and Gardens property. In response to the mayor's contention that if something isn't done with the property this year it will sit growing weeds for six more years, Mr. Smith said: "Well, it ain't hurting nothing. It ain't costing nothing."

LEANING AGAINST

JOE JACKSON: He said he has "several issues" with building a baseball stadium, one being the state of the economy. "Second, what is it going to cost?" he said. "I think it would be a good idea, but I don't know what it's going to cost. Third, what are we going to do with the stadium we've got?"

JOE BOWLES: If the stadium could be built without involving taxpayers, he said he's for it 100 percent, but he fears it could go belly-up in 10 years, leaving the city to pay off the debt.

UNCOMMITTED

BILL LOCKETT: He said he could support a baseball stadium but would have to know more about it. "It wouldn't be first on my list. There are many things much more urgent that would benefit the citizens of Augusta-Richmond County."

MATT AITKEN: "I really haven't had a chance to talk to my constituents. I didn't know condominiums was going to be tied into it."

-- Compiled by Sylvia Cooper

Mayor makes case

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver wants to talk downtown baseball with Augusta commissioners at their retreat next weekend in Athens.

In an e-mail sent to commissioners Friday, the mayor said he wants to discuss "the potential for a mixed-use sports and entertainment facility (baseball stadium)" he envisions being built on the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property.

He also wants their approval for the city's finance staff to put together a financing package that he said will cost nothing.

Other points the mayor makes in his e-mail include:

- An exploratory committee has completed its due diligence work, including a feasibility study; visits to stadiums in Greenville, S.C.; Greensboro, N.C.; and Durham, N.C.; and an economic impact study.

- The project has received resolutions of support from the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Development Authority of Richmond County, the Greater Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau and Augusta Tomorrow.

- It is also a part of the city's newly updated downtown master plan.

- His concern is that if the city does not act during this legislative session -- while Gov. Sonny Perdue, state Properties Director Steve Stancil and state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, are on board with the project -- an opportunity to get the property will be lost and it will sit vacant for the next six years, producing no tax revenue.

Downtown baseball stadium
At home

The Augusta GreenJackets hope to move  to the former Golf & Gardens  property from their current residence at Lake Olmstead Stadium off Milledge Road. The 4,822-seat stadium, built on top of the old Heaton Stadium site in 1995, underwent a $1.5 million upgrade starting in 2005, when Ripken Baseball Group purchased the team. Five years later, it’s the third-smallest stadium in the South Atlantic League.

“We’re starting to outgrow it,” GreenJackets General Manager Nick Brown said just before a feasibility study was released two years ago exploring the possibility of a downtown stadium. “Heaton Stadium was a glorified high school stadium, and now we’re just a glorified collegiate field.”

On the road

A downtown stadium exploratory committee made visits to Greenville, S.C., Greensboro, N.C., and Durham, N.C., during the summer of 2007. After the road trips, the committee decided to hire an independent consulting firm to conduct a feasibility study on the possibility of building a downtown stadium.

The study, released Feb. 28, 2008, said a downtown stadium would “potentially bring upwards of 350,000 patrons a year into the downtown area,” and estimated “a total Ballpark development cost of $31,830,000.”

Seven months later, Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver tried to boost support for the project from city commissioners but failed to gain a quorum at a called meeting.

Grass Greener in Greenville

Proponents of a downtown stadium point to similar venues in Greenville, S.C., and Durham, N.C., as examples of what could happen in Augusta. According to GreenvilleDrive.com, Fluor Field at the West End was completed in 2006 on an old lumber yard in downtown Greenville. The team went from an average attendance of 1,719 fans per game in 2005, before the new stadium was built, to at least 4,700 fans per game each of the next four seasons, bringing more than 340,000 people to the downtown area each year.

Not a rookie

Ripken Baseball Group, which purchased the GreenJackets in 2005, owns other minor league teams in Aberdeen, Md., and Port Charlotte, Fla. Both franchises have seen new stadiums built since the purchases. The Port Charlotte team benefited from a $27 million facilities renovation in 2009, thanks to a deal between the Tampa Bay Rays and the city of Port Charlotte that included a 20-year agreement to make the stadium the Rays’ spring training home.

Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium was part of a $35 million complex completed in 2002, according to The Baltimore Sun, just before the first season of the Aberdeen Ironbirds.

– Billy Byler, staff writer

Comments (110) Add comment
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Taylor B
5
Points
Taylor B 02/07/10 - 12:35 am
0
0
Wow, in an election year?

Wow, in an election year? Balsy, Mr. Copenhaver. Realize that Augusta extends further than downtown. Ballpark? Are you serious?

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 02/07/10 - 01:38 am
0
0
OK folks.. this is what the

OK folks.. this is what the mayor thinks is the #1 priority in Augusta.. no.. not the rampant crime, nuisance properties, and blight, or potholes you could swim in. Now how many things has Mayor Richie Cunningham actually taken an initiative on.. actually spearheaded?? Nothing I can think of other than this ballpark. Deke is living in some fantasyland and is completely out of touch reality and the people of this city. Whoever runs against Deke, should hang this absurd idea around his neck like an albatross.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 02/07/10 - 01:42 am
0
0
I am also shellshocked that

I am also shellshocked that Don Grantham is taking a sensible, fiscally conservative stance on this... amazing.. the man who loves to spend tax money on pet projects. Me thinks the right people are not benefitting from thsi stadium proposal and that's why he is against it.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 02/07/10 - 01:49 am
0
0
One should also wonder why

One should also wonder why Don Grantham didn't apply this same logic and scrutiny to the TEE Center.

Petey Aitchess
0
Points
Petey Aitchess 02/07/10 - 02:50 am
0
0
Hey y'all, build a nice place

Hey y'all, build a nice place for us Columbia County residents to visit. Go Deek!

DAMY46
0
Points
DAMY46 02/07/10 - 03:59 am
0
0
Deke will not get re-elected

Deke will not get re-elected with stupid ideas like this.

Brad Owens
5180
Points
Brad Owens 02/07/10 - 06:32 am
0
0
EmeryDan, the reason is

EmeryDan, the reason is beacuse the land is owned by the State right now so none of the sleazy developers would make any money. I bet if the same folks owned this property that owned the TEE Center spot, you would see them jumping through hoops to find a 'revenue source' to fund this. Funny, the entire thing in less than a third of the cost of the TEE yet everyone is against it. Looks like Deke needs to cash in some of those nice guy chips he has been collecting for years to get this. If I had to bet, and I am a paranoid guy, I would bet that IF this was approved and the land was handed over, that when the cash fell through on the govt side that the 'developer' of the condos would have options to get the whole piece of land. Here's an idea, turn it into GREEN SPACE!!! Plant trees and make a nice park there. Open the gates and turn it into green space, God knows we need the emission/pollution credits. A dog park, frisbee golf, ANYTHING that cost a small bit but gives good returns. By the way, I do support this idea and it would be a great move for Augusta, but we already gave the farm away for TEE Deke. Shouls have cut a deal BEFORE Aitken was elected Bro. Sorry.

ugadawgbite
0
Points
ugadawgbite 02/07/10 - 06:40 am
0
0
Good to see our tax money

Good to see our tax money being well spent with our Fire Lt. hitting golf balls instead of working....

AJ Wilson
0
Points
AJ Wilson 02/07/10 - 08:16 am
0
0
A baseball stadium when the

A baseball stadium when the Law Enforcement Center is making our finest ill? Deke get your head out of that dark smelly place.
It's a single A ball team. Pave the streets. Stop the gangs. Build a new LEC. We don't want or need a new stadium.

corgimom
43352
Points
corgimom 02/07/10 - 08:17 am
0
0
Since Cal Ripkin Jr. wants it

Since Cal Ripkin Jr. wants it so badly, why doesn't HE build it? I am sick of these sports franchises demanding that venues be built from taxpayer funds- and then when a better offer comes along, walk off scot-free.

peonynut
2
Points
peonynut 02/07/10 - 08:59 am
0
0
Ok. The Mayor and Commission

Ok. The Mayor and Commission "borrowed" money from the fireman's retirement fund to purchase the property at the corner of 5th and Reynolds'. To my knowledge they have never paid that back and the upscale condos that were planned were never built. How many pipe dreams does it take to say failure to follow up? Who has the money to live in an upscale condo on the river anyway?

getalife
6
Points
getalife 02/07/10 - 09:15 am
0
0
Deke should quit being a

Deke should quit being a baseball fan and be a Mayor. Augusta needs a lot more than a baseball stadium.

Riverman1
103412
Points
Riverman1 02/07/10 - 09:17 am
0
0
BallParkReviews rated Lake

BallParkReviews rated Lake Olmstead Stadium one of the best anywhere. It was visited in 2007 when talk of the downtown stadium was prevalent. Here is the last sentence in the review. "There has been talk of building a new ballpark in Augusta, but here's hoping that Lake Olmstead lives on for many more years." http://www.ballparkreviews.com/augusta/augusta.htm

Riverman1
103412
Points
Riverman1 02/07/10 - 09:44 am
0
0
A very few have gained total

A very few have gained total control of Augusta RICHMOND COUNTY tax money. The few wield influence in political, financial, press and personal ways that has created a domination of COUNTY government. It’s hard to go against their plans. A very small part of the county where those few have direct interests has been given so much that you would have laughed at me a few years back if I had told you the amount that would be spent. In the meanwhile West and South Augusta continue to grow and thrive even though much of their taxes go to the cabal’s interests. This total usurping of the budget controls has been a well thought out and insidious plan to not only take everything the COUNTY has, but also everything they will have for decades to pay for their projects. You and I might think of a personal project as building a backyard deck or something. Theirs are parking decks, huge speculative buildings and now a ball park. Observing what is happening is one reason, I started to question the Boy King. His toothy smile masks many, many hours of planning with his relatives and friends to channel the people’s money into THEIR personal projects. The guys under the puppet table are never cute as the puppets they control with their hands.

deekster
24
Points
deekster 02/07/10 - 11:00 am
0
0
Anyone who believes that each

Anyone who believes that each member of AT pays over $6,000 annually for the privilege of working free" needs to be committed to MCG. They are the ones would believe that a politician will spend $250,000 to get a $12000 a year position. The politicians, developers and contractors are "in bed together" and it ain't a "holy marriage". It is a business venture for their mutual wealth. The politicians use tax money to by land, pay for any studies and infrastructure. Developers and contractors build buildings. And they all get rich. They don't steal all of the money, No, even the "mafia" settles for "point on the dollars". Just enough to "wet their beaks". Five percent or ten percent of "billions of dollars" of construction has made fortunes in Augusta. The "skyline may change" but the "heart of Augusta" will stay the same. Progress could be great, but this is more of the same. If these, "heart of gold" individuals sincerely cared about Augusta's future they would have removed the railroad "switch yards" from the middle of town. You can't get into or out of town without a RR crossing. What if Augusta had a "Graniteville Disaster"? Not to mention that the 13th Street Bridge is the only access to downtown without a visit to a ghetto.

deekster
24
Points
deekster 02/07/10 - 11:07 am
0
0
In the present economy, real

In the present economy, real estate is one of best place to make money. The "money men" behind the "not leadership" are going for all they can, while they can. Hence the "rush" to build so many things at one time. Deke only sees the "promised land in Washington DC". His "puppeteers" see "mucho dinero". Follow the money. A membership in First Baptist Church does not make one a "saint". But it does ensure a successful business and political career. Build it now!!!

Brad Owens
5180
Points
Brad Owens 02/07/10 - 11:34 am
0
0
RM1, I agree with you on that

RM1, I agree with you on that but it is no different than anywhere else. The problem I have with all this is that NO ONE seems to care! Hell, the parking meter idea caused more reaction than a $100million dollar vote for the TEE!!! Oh sure, the WIZ will tell you about the 100gazillion dollars of growth that will now happen but I am not buying it. Meanwhile, everyone has you looking at the right hand while thye left one is picking your pocket. Shouldn't we fix the hole in the roof before we use the creditcard to buy new leather furiniture?

Junket831
0
Points
Junket831 02/07/10 - 11:41 am
0
0
A comparison with Greenville,

A comparison with Greenville, SC seems at this point a little premature. The downtown environment of Greenville is upscale, very clean and well developed. Augusta is still decades away from having that look and feel. I venture to guess that Greenville built the new stadium AFTER the downtown already reached a critical mass. In this way success was building on success. I like the idea of the stadium or any type of entertainment venue with mixed use potential. But, I would wait until downtown is at a critical juncture in which the stadium or other use would be a natural transition. The proposal as it stands now is a "build it and they will come" focus. I would rather have the crowds already there and then build it to give everyone a new option. I also like Brad's idea of just maintaining it for the time being as greenspace. If the stadium idea never takes off maybe we should look to an MCG or ASU expansion into the downtown area.

Little Lamb
51796
Points
Little Lamb 02/07/10 - 12:06 pm
0
0
Oh, please. We have an

Oh, please. We have an unfinished library, and unfinished courthouse, no decent offices for our sheriff's staff, and a convention center that hasn't yet started construction. This is no time to spend more taxes on a baseball stadium. Ask your commissioner to stand strong against the mayor's bad dream.

countyman
22636
Points
countyman 02/07/10 - 12:48 pm
0
0
It's not a baseball stadium.

It's not a baseball stadium. It's a mix-use facility. It will offer baseball, retail, residential, and entertainment. I find it funny how the same people who bash Augusta daily. Peoynut, Deekster, Dissman, Emerydan, etc. There the same people who bash the mayor for trying to improve the quality of life. Then on top of that they don't even live in the city. What are you doing to improve Augusta? Peoynut doesn't even live in Richmond county. And said there is no reason to even go to the Augusta side of the river. So why do you care if the mayor wants to continue to improve Augusta? You shouldn't even care right. Luckily the people in Richmond county want Augusta to be a big city. That's why they voted for the Tee Center. That's why mix-use facility will get built too.

Little Lamb
51796
Points
Little Lamb 02/07/10 - 12:51 pm
0
0
To tie in to Junket's idea.

To tie in to Junket's idea. I learned that the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has opened a second campus in Atlanta. Perhaps SCAD would like those 17 acres for an Augusta campus. Let us not be too hasty for the city to jump in and mess things up.

Little Lamb
51796
Points
Little Lamb 02/07/10 - 12:53 pm
0
0
Okay, Countyman. Let's put

Okay, Countyman. Let's put the baseball stadium on the ballot and see of Augustans really want to shell out their hard earned (and lost) taxes to pay for it. Fair is fair.

countyman
22636
Points
countyman 02/07/10 - 12:55 pm
0
0
The city is building a law

The city is building a law enforcement center. If will mostly likely be built in South Gate shopping center. A new law enforcement center was already approved in the last splost. About $8 or $9 million is already set aside. The library and judicial center both will be finish construction in 2010.

countyman
22636
Points
countyman 02/07/10 - 03:59 pm
0
0
Little Lamb I bet richmond

Little Lamb I bet richmond county voters will approve it. I don't think its going to need a vote though. The mayor has done a excellent job at improving Augusta. The unemployment rate is lower than the state and national average. Richmond county will outperform the state of GA in 2010. Crime is down in Richmond county except for theft by taking in a bad economy. Robberies, homicides, rapes, burgalries, and aggravated assaults are all down. Wells Fargo, American Tire, ADP, T-Mobile, Procter and Gamble, NSA, Medical District, etc are all adding jobs in 2010.

countyman
22636
Points
countyman 02/07/10 - 01:05 pm
0
0
There will always be

There will always be nasayers. Five years ago nasayers said the Kroc Center was impossible too. Well guess what its under construction in 2010. The nasayers said the riverwalk was impossible too. Deke is moving Augusta into the future. The progress is all around us.

Mayor Deke heard one of the greatest quotes of all time from his friend Major Bill Mockabee of the Salvation Army yesterday: "those who think a thing is impossible should not interrupt the ones doing it".

jb1234
0
Points
jb1234 02/07/10 - 01:22 pm
0
0
Personally, I'd like to see

Personally, I'd like to see the new stadium built, but that's just me. But, if it doesn't happen, a new college campus (such as a branch of GA Tech or SCAD) in downtown is a great idea. Oh, since someone brought up the sheriff's dept. looking for a new home, I always thought that the new judicial ctr. that's being build was going to replace the current law enforcement center, but I guess I was severely misinformed.

countyman
22636
Points
countyman 02/07/10 - 02:42 pm
0
0
I keep saying Don, Jimmy,

I keep saying Don, Jimmy, J.R, and Jerry need to go. These people continue to try to hold Augusta back. Jimmy Smith needs to be go immediately.. In response to the mayor's contention that if something isn't done with the property this year it will sit growing weeds for six more years, Mr. Smith said: "Well, it ain't hurting nothing. It ain't costing nothing."

What tax paying citizen wants 17 acres of weeds downtown for six years? When we could have a vibrant mix-use development on the property. Condos, retail, entertainment, and a baseball stadium. Gov Perdue, Cal Ripken Jr, & Jim Jacoby want Augusta to grow. Jim Jacoby is the developer of Atlantic Station. He is involved with Deke to get this project started. The old stadium can hold middle school and high school games. You can have playoff games there. It also can hold weddings and outdoor concerts.

Augusta is the 2nd largest city in GA. Let's start acting like it. Yes we can have a mix-use facility, Tee Center, Hyatt, Judicial Center, Kroc Center, Laney-Walker, and library under way at the same time.

Riverman1
103412
Points
Riverman1 02/07/10 - 02:51 pm
0
0
Countyman, I'm always

Countyman, I'm always inspired by your enthusiasm even if I don't agree with you. I'm against it, but if this new stadium should come to fruition, Lake Olmstead should be given to ASU. It's a state school and it would make a good pay-off for obtaining the GGHOF property. ASU could bring in some awesome college baseball teams to play there.

Hoser
0
Points
Hoser 02/07/10 - 03:01 pm
0
0
AJ & Countryman, the new LEC

AJ & Countryman, the new LEC is already being built on Walton Way, several blocks away from the current LEC.

countyman
22636
Points
countyman 02/07/10 - 03:03 pm
0
0
Deke keep up the good work.

Deke keep up the good work. Over 65% of Richmond county voters will vote for you in the upcoming election. There are plenty of people out there who share your vision. We see the growth and want even bigger growth in the future. We see the judicial center, library, saint sebastian, dental school, the walks on james brown, the enclave, the loft building on james brown boulevard, martha lester school residential, kroc center, etc under construction dowtown.

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