Originally created 12/15/04

Retirees are called key to city's growth



Financial planner Woody Merry wants to make Augusta into America's retirement destination to spur economic growth and save the city from the bankruptcy his reform group is predicting in five years.

Mr. Merry outlined the CSRA Economic Recovery Plan he has been trying in vain to get elected officials to hear for weeks at a public forum Tuesday at Augusta State University.

He said developing the downtown area from Bay to Broad streets, down the Augusta Canal and back to Reynolds Street into a mecca for retirees would take advantage of Augusta's assets, such as:

 •  A favorable climate

 •  An affordable cost of living

 •  Sports and recreation

 •  Medical facilities

 •  Educational institutions

 •  Developable urban land

 •  Instant name recognition because of the Masters Tournament

Mr. Merry proposed that the city donate its vacant downtown land.

The plan, he said, would revitalize downtown Augusta and stimulate the area's economy with a construction boom and boost its declining tax base and population.

The average income of retirees is $60,000, which would add $400 million to the property-tax base, $120 million in new income, $8 million in new sales-tax revenue and $600 million in new investment capital, Mr Merry said.

"Let's not forget the cost of construction with a multiplier effect of six to one," he said.

The plan ultimately seeks to bring in new merchants and businesses.

It would also increase airline traffic and create a need for advanced specialized health care.

Only one elected official - Augusta Commissioner Andy Cheek - came to the forum. He defended the commission, including its refusal to heed the advice of its own studies and grand jury recommendations.

Mr. Merry founded the Citizens Action Committee, a government reform group, after commissioners rejected an offer of $3 million for the city pensioner's property by the Savannah River on Reynolds Street.

That property was appraised at $1.7 million. Mr. Merry was acting as the agent for an investor who wanted to develop it into an upscale retirement complex.

Mr. Merry said that other than Mr. Cheek, Augusta's elected officials have rejected his offer to present his plan.

"And I'm the only one with a plan," he said.

Mr. Cheek said Mr. Merry's plan had many elements that are doable.

"These are all things we want to do, but it's not going to happen overnight," Mr. Cheek said. "Where is the money going to come from? Don't expect us to do something with nothing."

After the meeting, Mr. Merry said, "I think Andy Cheek is the only leader we've got."

Olde Town resident Rob Moon said he thought the plan has a lot of possibility.

"And I hope city government can find a way to implement parts of it," he said.

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