Largely dormant for most of the past 18 months, the sleeping giant known as the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. is beginning to wake from its slumber.
On Monday afternoon, the nonprofit economic development group began moving forward on three fronts: project selection, land acquisition and administrative consolidation.
All sure signs, board members said, that the group of bankers and businessmen is starting to deliver on the promise of an economic impact on blighted areas of the city.
The board's project oversight and development committee has finalized a spending plan for the first $10 million installment of a three-year, $30 million state economic development grant.
Also, board members acknowledged the acquisition of 15 homes in the Laney-Walker neighborhood and confirmed plans to acquire an additional 40 homes in the coming weeks.
And for the first time, the board spoke openly about making a concerted effort to take over the daily operations of the city's Housing and Neighborhood Development Department.
For months, the list of community projects to act on and projects to wait on has been somewhat fluid. Monday's unanimous adoption of nine projects solidified that list once and for all.
The board agreed to spend $1 million on the development of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, now being constructed between Reynolds Street and Riverwalk Augusta. The grant will be used for demolition, to install utilities, to construct parking spaces, to landscape the grounds, and to set up operating offices.
The 30901 Development Corp., a nonprofit economic development group focusing on the Turpin Hill area, will receive $275,000 for the construction of 12 three- to four-bedroom homes. Two management positions and 23 construction jobs will be created from this project.
Antioch Ministries will receive $250,000 to subsidize Phase II of the Florence Street revitalization project, including the construction of 20 homes. The project will create three permanent positions and as many as 100 construction jobs.
The CSRA Business League will receive $500,000 for a "business incubator" park and other programs. The project, some board members say, will complement the biomedical/biotechnical park being developed in the Laney-Walker area. There will be $1 million spent on that project.
An additional $1.5 million will be used to upgrade the Paine College gymnasium. And $750,000 will be used to develop Springfield Village Park, a common area memorializing Springfield Baptist Church.
The Natural Sciences Academy received $250,000 toward the completion of the first phase of the Phinizy Swamp education center. Another $250,000 was put toward the Augusta Canal Authority's plan to acquire 95 acres of land along Augusta Canal between River Watch Parkway and Interstate 20.
Some board members expressed surprise that other projects did not get funding priority, especially Augusta Tomorrow's plans for the Augusta Commons project.
ANIC board member and state Sen. Charles Walker, the man credited with securing the state funds for Augusta, said housing is his No. 1 priority, and he suggested it should be the board's.
ANIC plans to spend more than $3 million on initiatives.
"I want to see construction by late December, early January," he told board members. "We need some paint on some houses, ASAP."
Robert Cooks, president of ANIC, said most of the homes and vacant lots have been bought for $7,000 each. But, he said, some landowners are trying to capitalize on ANIC's efforts in the Laney-Walker neighborhood by asking for excessive amounts of money for dilapidated homes.
He said ANIC needs the city's help, especially because the city can use its power of eminent domain to acquire decaying houses from absentee owners.
George Patty, executive director of the planning commission, purportedly has told Mr. Cooks his department's building inspectors will help ANIC any way they can.
Augusta Commissioner Lee Beard said the city supports ANIC's efforts. "It has created a domino effect for private investors," he said.
As ANIC moves forward with neighborhood revitalization projects, Mr. Walker said the board should consider pressuring the Augusta Commission to allow the development group to take over the daily operations of the city's Housing and Neighborhood Development Department.
Mr. Cooks and board members seemed to be in agreement that such a consolidation would make their jobs much easier. It will also save the city money in the long run, they said.
Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.
|Where funds will go|
How the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. plans to spend the first $10 million of a three-year, $30 million state economic development grant:
Paine College...........$1.5 million
Biomedical Park.........$1 million
Golf Hall of Fame.......$1 million
Springfield Village Park...$750,000
CSRA Business League....$500,000
30901 Development Corp..$275,000