Originally created 05/02/00

Panel asks city attorney for review



Laney-Walker Development Corp. board members knew before their meeting Monday that pharmacist Marshall Curtis would not be the one developing the second phase of Armstrong Galleria.

With no other proposals in the way, they believed their own plan -- one that promises to build a drugstore, a fast-food restaurant and retail shops on the corner of Augusta's Laney-Walker Boulevard and Eighth Street -- would be approved.

They were wrong.

Instead of approving the nonprofit group's proposal, the Citizens Advisory Committee decided to ask the city attorney to review new information regarding development rights to the property.

Once the city attorney has determined if anyone has exclusive development rights to the property, the advisory committee will decide whether to advertise the project and review more bids or accept the development corporation's proposal.

Committee Chairman David Hogg said it would be in his group's best interest to hear as many proposals for the project as it can.

That news seemed to catch Hardy Bennings, president of the development corporation, off guard.

"During this period of time where we are waiting for information from the city attorney, will that be enough time for others to submit other contract proposals?" Mr. Bennings asked.

The Laney-Walker proposal would cost about $1.28 million -- $700,000 of which would come from public funding. Development corporation board members said the public money would be well spent because the project is expected to create 34 full-time jobs in the drugstore and restaurant.

Mr. Curtis' project had required much less public funding. Several committee members said they should see if other people who might use less public money are interested in developing the project.

The suggestion to seek bids angered several Laney-Walker board members, including Vice Chairman Cedric Johnson, who thought the bid process was over.

"We thought this was the time period," Mr. Johnson said. "Put a time specification on this, or it will be another seven years before anything gets done."

It was in March that Mr. Curtis, owner of Medical Villa Pharmacy, made his proposal to build Phase II of Armstrong Galleria. The presentation caught the development corporation by surprise as the group thought it had exclusive rights to develop the property.

Laney-Walker Development Corp. built Phase I of the shopping center project in the mid-1990s. Phase II stalled, they said, because they ran out of money.

During Monday's meeting, Gary Bussey, executive director of the CSRA Business League, showed site maps and letters on city letterhead signed by former Augusta Mayor Charles DeVaney that appear to indicate the development corporation had the spirit and intent to develop Phase II.

The new information offered conflicting evidence to the city attorney's previous claim that no one had any contract to build Phase II.

Mr. Johnson said Laney-Walker Development Corp. has a drugstore owner lined up -- with the money -- to build a drugstore on the property. He said officials also have a restaurant owner ready to build the restaurant. What they need, they said, is the go-ahead for the project.

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.



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