The neighborhood is being transformed, but city leaders are not ready to open the vault and approve a $2.5 million loan for the Laney Walker, Bethlehem neighborhoods redevelopment.
"I support keeping the project going, but I would think, we could keep the project going with a smaller fee than two and a half million dollars," says Commissioner Bill Lockett.
"We have some questions that need to be answered, within the next few months. We need some accountability on those questions before we okay a loan. Right now, we're not moving forward so we have to go back to the drawing board," says Commissioner Mary Davis.
One question is how to pay for future development. Right now, a $1 per night hotel tax is being used to pay off bonds, but some Augusta Commissioners say that is not enough, and have directed the Augusta Housing and Development Department to find another funding source.
"Be prepared, for what happens after the two years, you're going to be running out of funding, then the project is going to stop so be mindful," says Commissioner Joe Jackson.
Commissioners are also troubled by the amount of money being paid to consultants and marketing...more than $2 million since 2010. All of this has put the loan request in jeopardy, and now City Administrator Fred Russell is saying the loan can be put off.
"I think we can wait for I think I can hold off for a while to see where we are going," says Russell.
"As of this moment, I haven't been apprised of that information. The last information I received was it was extremely urgent, we needed to do something right away," says Lockett. "If they've come to this conclusion, they did it without any input of mine," he adds.
And, the loan is off for right now because the Augusta Housing and Development Department closed on a $700 thousand dollar property sale with the Augusta Housing Authority for the Twiggs Street redevelopment, so that is a new source of cash for the short term. For the long term, Commissioners will consider holding a work session to determine a new funding source for the redevelopment other than the hotel tax, and whether it's cheaper to bring the marketers and consultants in-house as city employees.
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