Originally created 08/24/04

Effort to trim project list fails

Augusta commissioners met all day Monday to try to pare down a list of requested sales tax projects to $380 million, but ended up adding projects instead.

And in some instances, commissioners added more money for projects than their sponsors had requested.

They added a $24 million inner-city transformation project, proposed by Commissioner Betty Beard, that would include a James Brown Museum and Hall of Fame; an open-air heritage museum to be constructed near the Augusta Canal at Walton Way between Seventh and Ninth streets; and a Sandbar Ferry Fire Station Museum.

The transformation project had not been discussed until last week, when the projected price tag was $12 million.

That amount doubled during the weekend after Mrs. Beard organized a team to put together a proposal to be presented Monday.

Commissioners also added $110 million worth of arts and entertainment projects to their "straw list" of projects, including $25 million for a performing arts center; $60 million for a sports entertainment center at Regency Mall; and $25 million for an amphitheater at Diamond Lakes Park.

The straw list is tentative and may be revised before Friday, the deadline for passing a resolution with a list of projects to put before voters during the November general election.

The board sent its attorney, Stephen Shepard, and Doug Batchelor, attorney for Augusta Entertainment LLC, the group hoping to operate the proposed coliseum, to draw up a contract that would spell out who would be responsible should the center experience an operating deficit and would further define minority participation.

The good will that prevailed during the first few hours of the meeting faltered when some commissioners balked at adding the amphitheater at Diamond Lakes. Commissioner Andy Cheek and others threatened to remove the coliseum from the straw list, so they agreed to add both.

Also added to the straw list were community projects worth $8.34 million, including $673,000 for the Lucy Craft Laney Museum; $2.5 million each for the Augusta Mini Theatre and the Imperial Theatre; $1.67 million to the Augusta Museum of History; $260,000 to the Augusta Youth Center; $1 million to Mach Academy and $130,000 to Camp Fix It.

The youth center had requested only $200,000, and Camp Fix It had requested only $100,000, but Mrs. Beard proposed adding to their requests.

Commissioner Marion Williams insisted on adding $400,000 to the Lucy Craft Laney request because the $600,000 they had requested would not cover a planned 10,000-square-foot building.

Mr. Williams also added $5 million to an approved $21 million for the Metro Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau on Reynolds Street because the cost estimates for that building were 2 years old.

Late in the day, commissioners started on a public works project list that Public Works Director Teresa Smith had whittled down to $190 million. They added $29 million in projects to that list.

By 9 p.m., the straw list contained a total of $558 million in projects.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.


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