Thursday, February 16, 2012

News of the Absurd: Mayor Deke Wins Southern Living Award for Laney-Walker

Maybe next year Deke will win 1st Place for Congeniality
Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider

Well it looks like Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver can add yet another bullet point to his political resume: Being recognized by a national publication as  a Hero of The New South. In a press release from Karyn Nixon of the Mayor's office, we learned that Deke Copenhaver received an honorable mention in the Architecture category for  Southern Living Magazine's Heroes of The New South Award, which will appear in their upcoming March 2012 edition. According to the press release, the criteria for being named a Hero of The New South include:
  • Contribution to Southern culture: Commitment to driving Southern culture forward via personal grassroots efforts or within an organization.
  •  Innovation: Forward-thinking individuals and organizations that put new spins on traditions.
  • Impact on the community: Regional and local reach throughout the South.
  • Scope of reach: Amount of community influence on a national, regional, and local level.
  • Advancement: How contributions will impact future generations.
So what prompted this accolade from Southern Living Magazine being bestowed upon Augusta's humble Mayor? None other than the Laney-Walker Redevelopment project.

Yes, the wildly successful Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment project, being paid for through $38 million in public bonds from a $1 per night hotel/motel excise tax extending for the next 50 years. The same redevelopment project that so far has only filled 5 homes and half a duplex in the more than 2 years since the groundbreaking on the model home. (See Augusta Chronicle story here: City Tries to Fill Heritage Pine Homes). Despite, the lackluster interest in the new homes the city is still building more. But who's going to move into them? The city is hoping that displaced Hyde Park residents might fill a good chunk of them, even though many Hyde Park residents say they don't want to move.(read more on that here)

Oh and we can't forget about the Overlay Zoning District that was part of this redevelopment project; the one that the city's Planning and Zoning Department initially tried to sneak through under the noses of Laney-Walker residents, completely forgetting to inform them of the zoning changes involved with the overlay.

Yes, it's been an extremely successful project from the start. We're sure that Southern Living Magazine thoroughly researched the history of the Laney-Walker redevelopment before handing out this award.

But we have to wonder why Deke is getting most of the credit for it all. It seems to us that the Mayor, at the most, played only a minor role... the real credit for infusing $38 million in tax dollars into Laney-Walker/Bethlehem over the next 50 years should go to former Augusta Commissioners Betty Beard and Don Grantham.  You see, back in 2007 the controversial TEE Center project was stalled in neutral. Commissioners were splitting along racial lines on where to build the convention center and who to give the operations contract to  run it. Don Grantham wanted it to be built next to the Marriott Hotel and Suites along the Riverwalk and give the management contract to its owner, Augusta Riverfront LLC which has ties to his buddy William S Morris III, publisher of The Augusta Chronicle. But Grantham needed six votes and he was coming up short.

So ole Dandy Don decided to play Let's Make a Deal with District 1 commissioner Betty Beard. In exchange for her vote to approve building the TEE Center adjacent to the Augusta Riverfront LLC owned Marriott and giving them the contract to run it, her beloved Laney-Walker/Bethlehem neighborhood would receive $38 milllion for redevelopment over 50 years. This would come from a $1 per night hotel/motel bed tax that would fund public bonds for Laney Walker and the TEE Center operations. So that's how it all happened.  But it seems Betty and Don are being forgotten for their efforts, and Deke is getting all the credit.

Deke did mention Betty Beard in a list of names of people who helped get the project moving... but really... if not for Betty Beard, the project would have never happened in the first place.

So let's get this straight, Mayor Deke Copenhaver is being recognized by Southern Living Magazine as a Hero of The New South for a project he had very little to do with that was essentially a $38 million vote buy-off to get the TEE Center built  and management contract awarded to  Augusta Riverfront LLC ....two projects that have been mired in controversy from the start and even included the attempted bribery of two sitting Augusta commissioners. OK.. well if Deke wants to take credit for that, maybe no one should stop him. ***

Related Stories:
Deke's Award Collection Rests on a Mountain of Hubris
Laney-Walker Overlay Zone Series

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