Lake pitched for mall land

Saying it won't be practical for the city to buy or condemn the defunct Regency Mall, City Administrator Fred Russell gave Augusta commissioners another option Thursday for using special-purpose sales tax money to spur redevelopment in the area:

A 13-acre lake.

"For those of you who have ever sold real estate, waterfront property is the most viable property you've got to sell," Mr. Russell said.

Creating it out of Rocky Creek would cost $2.5 million, he said. He showed commissioners an aerial photo with water drawn in on an area north of the mall, which would be to the right of it in a view from Gordon Highway.

The lake would encompass most of Regency Boulevard, a day care and a retention pond between the mall parking lot and Rocky Creek. At 13 acres it would be slightly larger than Lake Aumond off Walton Way Extension.

Reaction from commissioners was generally positive.

"Whatever we get is better than what we have now," said Calvin Holland, whose district includes Regency Mall. "Everybody is tired of seeing that property the way it is. We want something better."

Mr. Russell presented the plan as part of his reworked project list for the next round of special-purpose local option sales tax collections, which now totals $184.7 million, down from $185.3 million last month.

Earlier versions included $8 million to acquire, raze and redevelop Regency Mall, but Mr. Russell said that plan's a bust. The mall's owner, New York-based Cardinal Entities, wants $50 million for it although the county has it valued at $4.2 million.

If the city condemns it, Mr. Russell said, it loses more than $51,000 in taxes and the property could only be used for a park or other municipal service. The city used a $75,000 federal grant to hire F.A. Johnson Consulting Group to create a plan for the site, which called for a mixed-use, mixed-income community with apartments, townhomes, open space, commercial space and a recreational center.

Along with making such things more likely to be developed, Mr. Russell said, the lake would provide flood control and recreational space, which is scarce in that part of town.

Commissioner Jimmy Smith said he's not happy about losing the $8 million. He said south Augustans are tired of having to drive to Washington Road for a pair of socks, and the section of the county with the most development potential is "going to pot."

"I can tell you that south Augusta will not support this SPLOST unless something is done out there," Mr. Smith said.

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

NONPROFITS, PAINE COLLEGE ADDED TO LIST

City Administrator Fred Russell's revised list of proposed projects now has money for about a dozen more nonprofits and other entities, most of which had been turned down before. They're not getting all they asked for, and at Thursday's commission sales tax workshop Mr. Russell proposed they be required to come up with 20 to 25 percent in matching funds before the city gives them any money.

Agencies now being accommodated include:

Paine College $2.5 million

Fleming Tennis Center $850,000

(MACH Academy, recreation projects)

Augusta Museum of History $600,000

Lucy Craft Laney Museum $600,000

Boys and Girls Club $500,000

CSRA Land Trust $500,000

(as a Public Services project)

Golden Harvest Food Bank $250,000

Pendleton King Park Foundation $200,000

Augusta Urban Ministries $175,000

Historic Augusta $125,000

Jessye Norman School of Arts $95,000

The new list also recommends $5.7 million for the cities of Hephzibah and Blythe, which on Wednesday requested a combined $7.5 million.