Agency for area appears unlikely

South Augusta probably won't get its own quasi-government agency for wooing upscale restaurants and retailers, instead having to settle for a full-time point person charged with marketing the area.

Sammie Sias, who called for a new development authority in February along with former mayoral candidate Steven Kendrick, says he'll take it.

"That will satisfy what we're asking for," Mr. Sias said. "As long as the mission and focus remains intact."

Mr. Sias, the president of the Richmond County Neighborhood Association Alliance, has been publicly pushing for the Augusta Commission to create an agency to do for south Augusta what the Downtown Development Authority does for the city center: Recruit businesses that fit in with a strategic plan. Commissioners and Mayor Deke Copenhaver, though, said they're wary of having yet another narrowly focused bureaucracy in Augusta.

"What we don't want to do is create a political nightmare," said District 4 Commissioner Alvin Mason, who the commission appointed chairman of its South Augusta Development Initiative.

Mr. Mason and five other commissioners, along with state Rep. Hardie Davis, attended Mr. Kendrick's presentation earlier this month, which proposed an authority with seven to nine board members, an executive director with two assistants and a budget of about $133,000.

Mr. Kendrick, the board chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, made a similar presentation at Augusta Technical College in February, arguing that neither the downtown authority nor the industry-minded Development Authority of Richmond County look out for south Augusta.

Someone needs to advocate for the area, Mr. Mason said, but considering the turmoil with the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, he's wary of using the word "authority". South Augusta's marketer could fall under the umbrella of the downtown or Richmond County authority, with duties similar to those agencies' executive directors, or they could answer directly to the commission, Mr. Mason said.

"We've got to look at which is the best way," he said. "We're in the fact-finding stages."

With few exceptions, Gordon Highway and Deans Bridge, Peach Orchard, Windsor Spring and Tobacco roads are corridors of second-rate businesses -- fast food, title loan offices, used car lots, discount stores, pawn shops and convenience marts. Mr. Sias said residents of high-priced neighborhoods are tired of making 30-minute drives to west Augusta or Columbia County for classy meals or name-brand clothing boutiques.

South Augusta doesn't have as strong income demographics as those areas, but Mr. Sias said if national chains come, residents will support them.

"If you add the price of gas up right now, that's a big factor," he said.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

WHERE'S SOUTH AUGUSTA?

Alvin Mason, the chairman of the Augusta Commission's South Augusta Development Initiative, says it starts with the north side of Gordon Highway and includes all of Richmond County south of it.

That was one of three options offered on determining south Augusta's boundary, with the others being all of the county not covered by the Downtown Development Authority, or everything south of Gordon Highway along with the Belair Road area west of Bobby Jones Expressway.

Mr. Mason said he doesn't consider the territory west of Bobby Jones, which includes Doctors Hospital, to be south Augusta. Sammie Sias, the president of the Richmond County Neighborhood Association Alliance who's pushing the initiative, said he believes including that area would spur more support, but he'll defer to the commissioner's judgment.

"Either way is OK with me," Mr. Sias said.