Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Commissioners Nix BID and Bridge to No Where

Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider

The Mayan calendar supposedly predicted that the world would end at the  close of 2012, but perhaps what they really meant was that Augusta's controversial downtown Business Improvement District and the frivolous TEE Center sky walk would  have no future. In a marathon meeting yesterday, the last of 2012, Augusta commissioners decided not to renew the BID and its companion CADI (Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative) and the proposed "Bridge to No Where" spanning Reynolds street connecting the new convention center and its parking deck failed to receive the needed 6 votes for approval.

Bye Bye BID

Perhaps receiving the most attention at yesterday's meeting was the proposed renewal of the BID. Up until the last minute, it was not even certain if the DDA had secured the needed 110 signatures from select downtown property owners to even bring the item before the commission for a vote. As of late last week, they were 20 short, and they received a major blow when the largest property owner in the district, William S Morris III and his related companies, came out against renewal. But late on Monday, the DDA miraculously pulled the necessary signatures seemingly out of thin air, getting 4 more than the minimum necessary. But that did not sway commissioners. Wayne Guilfoyle, Bill Lockett, Alvin Mason, Joe Jackson and Joe Bowles all voted against renewing the controversial program. Commissioners Matt Aitken, JR Hatney, Jerry Brigham , and Corey Johnson voted to keep it. Outgoing commissioner Matt Aitken made a motion to renew the program with new provisions, but it failed to receive 6 votes for approval.

Critics of the BID maintained that just because the DDA managed to  scrape up the bare minimum of needed signatures to bring it before the commission did not mean that it had the support of a majority of downtown business and property owners. Robin Schweitzer, a downtown business owner, spoke out against the BID at yesterday's meeting and pointed out that it did not cover all of the Central Business District and was purposefully gerrymandered to insure its passage in 2007. But even under the DDA's selectively hand drawn BID, they were barely able to get the  minimum number of signatures for renewal. Former commissioner Andy Cheek, who served on the commission when the BID was first enacted, also spoke out against renewing it in an afternoon public meeting. He said that the DDA had mismanaged the program from the very beginning and never delivered on their promises to provide enhanced security downtown.

Paul King, a prominent downtown property manager, showed up with a posse clad in bright yellow t-shirts emblazoned with "I'm 4 CADI." Observers noted that most of them were employees of the program and tenants and employees of Mr. King. He appealed to commissioners to save the program, admitting that some mistakes were made but gave no specifics how the program would be corrected if continued.  Commissioners questioned the logic of renewing a program with so many flaws and failed promises. Several commissioners questioned how 7 to 9 hourly wage sidewalk sweepers could cost downtown business owners in excess of $350,000 a year and said the entire program begged for an audit. We have attempted to gain access to the books of the BID and CADI for previous stories and have received nothing but stonewalling from the DDA and their attorneys.

Some political observers are questioning why  Paul King was the main spokesperson for renewing the BID at the commission meeting yesterday, instead of DDA director Margaret Woodard, and this lead to people asking who is really pulling the strings at the DDA. We will have more about Mr King  in an upcoming article.

The Bridge to No Where Goes No Where

An agenda item that was expected to gain easy approval yesterday was the proposed sky walk connecting the new convention center to the new parking deck across Reynolds Street; however, it also failed to receive the needed six votes for approval. Championed by Joe Bowles, who had placed it on the agenda, the sky walk was estimated to cost close to $1 million. Bowles said that money that was left over from construction of the deck would pay for it, but others questioned the need to spend that money on something that was not  necessary and instead proposed putting the money in the bank or spending it on something that was actually needed.

With a bit of theatrics, Bowles made an impassioned plea for approval of the skywalk, citing recent pedestrian deaths in Augusta. Bowles said he did not want "to have blood on his hands" if a pedestrian was struck and killed crossing Reynolds Street trying to access the convention center. Critics of the skywalk asked why not spend the money to improve the safety at intersections that actually do have a history of pedestrian fatalities like Washington and Peach Orchard roads. Reynolds Street is relatively safe for pedestrians. Also in a bit of irony, traffic engineers said that a flashing billboard proposed for the skywalk would actually make Reynolds Street less safe for motorists and pedestrians. Under the management agreement for the convention center, Augusta Riverfront LLC would have received all profits from advertising on the electronic billboard on the skywalk.

Striking out yet again on both items was Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who even went on TV endorsing passage of the skywalk and also supported renewing the BID. Lori Davis, however can chalk up two more political victories. She helped mobilize opposition to renewing the BID and also fought approval of the skywalk. Davis took to her government watchdog Facebook group yesterday and asked citizens to email all of the commissioners and urge them to vote "No" on both agenda items. Davis says she has a lot more planned for the coming year.***

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Coming Up Tomorrow: We discuss the ballpark and adjacent development proposed for the North Augusta riverfront known as Project Jackson.

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