Fredrick Neely bought into Pine Street in the Laney Walker neighborhood nearly one year ago, and he says the city's work here could make this area hot for future investment
"This is just a lighter to start the fire, it's for other investors to come in a and pick up the flames," said Neely. "And the Commission should not stop it now?" we asked. "Please don't," said Neely.
But, Augusta Commissioners have hit the brakes on continuing the redevelopment effort
They have refused to approve a $2.5 million "bridge loan" to keep the project on track.
"There seems to be a lot of questions that have been unanswered this department is screaming for accountability. As far as I'm concerned, we've got to look at that very, very closely," says Commissioner Alvin Mason.
One area being look at closely is the cost of consultants, with the city spending $45,000 a month on a project manager, and $6,000 a month for marketing, since 2010 the city has spent more than two point one million dollars on these consultants.
"I would think we're spending too much, and how much is too much, and the question is do the means justify the ends," says Commissioner Bill Fennoy.
Commissioners directed the Augusta Housing and Development Department to do a cost analysis of whether it would be cheaper to bring the consultants in-house as city employees. The department's written response to Commissioners says, as city employees, the consultants would cost $50,000 more over three months, but that analysis only looked at the cost if the entire consulting team was hired.
"I didn't try to measure and analyze if we could do it with staff less than that. [I] just took his same staff and said, 'if I paid him an hourly rate, this is what it would cost...'said Augusta Housing and Development Department director Chester Wheeler. "Lot of concern about the consultants, can you get along without them," we asked. "I will address that later," said Wheeler.
"He has a successful program but what price are we going to pay for success," said Fennoy.
Commissioners are going to discuss the loan request next week, but Commissioner Mary Davis says there isn't support for the $2.5 million loan and says the Housing Department needs to come back with a new amount that will keep the project going another six to nine months...and then the department can come back on a regular basis and account for how those dollars are being spent.
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