Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Downtown Advisory Panel Resurrected

Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Augusta, GA
From CityStink.net Reports

After a growing dissatisfaction with the direction the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) has been taking Augusta's central business district under the helm of director Margaret Woodard, a group of downtown business owners and other stakeholders have revived the Downtown Advisory Panel (DAP). 

Mostly dormant since 2005, DAP was created on June 2, 2003 by an Augusta Commission resolution that passed unanimously 10-0.  According to the establishing resolution, the expressed purpose of DAP was "to make recommendations to the Augusta-Richmond County Commission concerning the continued growth of the Central Business District of Augusta."  DAP was envisioned to be the guiding force for the development of Downtown Augusta representing the downtown stakeholders equally, with the DDA merely being a funding mechanism with the power to issue bonds for programs spearheaded by DAP. However, since 2005, the DDA with its director Margaret Woodard, began to usurp many of the functions of DAP, until the advisory panel eventually went dormant.

Many small downtown business owners say they have been frustrated with the performance of the DDA in advocating for their interests, as well with having a lack of representation on the DDA Board of Directors. DDA critics say the authority often looks out more for the interests of a small clique of cronies, often directing SPLOST funds to their pet projects, overlooking the needs of the majority of downtown business and property owners.

Also, many in the downtown business community believe that they were mislead by the DDA when they agreed to sign on to establishing a Business Improvement District (BID) five years ago. They say they agreed to subjecting themselves to an extra tax with the promise that it would include enhanced public safety, but instead all they got was a glorified maid service called the CADI program. We told you about complaints with the CADI program in our April 11, 2012 article: Is Downtown Augusta Throwing Money Away on CADI Program? Downtown property owners also complain that they are being charged for graffiti removal when it was promised to be a function of the BID.

Margaret Woodard and the DDA also ruffled the feathers of a large number of downtown business owners with the proposal to bring parking meters back to downtown, something that many people contend would discourage customers from coming to the central business district. The DDA spent tens of thousands of dollars on numerous parking studies and $37,000 of SPLOST money on a feasibility study for a downtown trolley line. Many downtown business owners contend that money could have been better spent on real needs in downtown and it illustrates the disconnect between the DDA and the downtown business community.

Compounding their frustration, downtown business owners were also upset when the Broad Street Clock, which was bought for downtown with $40,000 in SPLOST funds in 2003, was given to the airport by the DDA in 2011. Business owners say they were not consulted by Margaret Woodard on this decision. We also found no mention of the decision to move the clock in any of the DDA meeting minutes. You can see our report on the downtown clock incident here-->The Case of the Disappearing Downtown Clock. Business owners tell us that this is indicative of how the DDA operates, with its director, Margaret Woodard, often behaving like a dictator. Many of them have even begun referring to her as Queen Madge.

With the resurrection of DAP, downtown business and property owners hope to finally have a greater voice in the direction of downtown development and an organization that will lobby for their interests before the Augusta Commission. No one representing the DDA attended Moday's DAP vote even though they were made aware of the meeting. Sources tell us that Robin Schweitzer (owner of Schweitzer's Art Glass on Broad Street) was instrumental in organizing the DAP caucus and assembling the votes to revive the organization.

 Under the 2003 DAP resolution, the panel is made up of 7 members, each representing various interests within the downtown community.  The panel members serve for 1 year terms and can be reappointed. After Monday's vote, the new DAP  Board of Directors include the following:
  • Mike Walraven (Chairman of DAP)
  • Bonnie Ruben (owner of BR Investment Group and the Ramada Plaza Hotel)
  • Tony Williamson (owner of 8th Street Tobacco)
  • Jai West (owner of Casa Blanca cafe)
  • Roy Davenport (co-owner of Artistic Perceptions Art gallery)
  • Eric Kinlaw (co-owner of The Bees Knees restaurant)
  • Ben Casella (Partner in Casella Eye center)
*An update on this story is forthcoming as information becomes available
* Below is the 2003 Augusta Commission resolution establishing the DAP
Establishing a Downtown Advisory Panel

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