Listing the Properties
City moves forward with selling surplus properties, but keeps list private
by Eric Johnson
The Augusta commission moved closer to unloading an estimated $9 million worth of surplus property Tuesday when commissioners approved a contract with brokers Sherman and Hemstreet and Blanchard and Calhoun while authorizing the sale of the properties on a list they agreed upon in a closed-door legal meeting but did not immediately make public.
A list of surplus properties released in April included several properties, including the old library building and the former Chamber of Commerce building in the middle of Broad Street. Discussions have also included the depot property on Reynolds Street at the Fifth Street bridge.
Because several of the properties are considered historically significant, Historic Augusta Executive Director Erick Montgomery attended the meeting, and though he considered the proceedings relatively straightforward, he was a little troubled that the list of properties was not made public.
Administrator Fred Russell said the reason they had initiated the process to sell the properties was to raise money for the general fund.
“We budgeted last year with a $2 million influx on sold property,” he said. “This year we looked at a million dollars.”
In the meeting, he alluded to the impact not doing this had on last year’s budget, suggesting that time was of the essence in order to take advantage of such savings in this budget cycle.
Also, putting these mostly unused buildings back on the tax roll would have a positive impact on city finances, and both Russell and Mayor Deke Copenhaver have been optimistic recently about Augusta’s position in the regional economy, specifically the opportunities offered by the downtown, where several of the more attractive surplus properties are located.
The library building, for instance, has generated attention from both Paine College and Augusta State University.
The meeting was an attempt to clear up loose ends previously dealt with, like authorizing the contract with the brokers, a concept that had been approved earlier, and to get the commission to actually consider the list of specific properties.
It was a list Russell made sure was kept confidential.
Citing changes in the open meetings laws, Russell informed the commission that state law allowed them to discuss the specific properties in a closed legal meeting, which he suggested would keep the “challenges and opportunities” of each property private.
Before going into legal, however, city attorney Wayne Brown explained that Georgia Code required public properties to be sold either by auction or by sealed bid. The broker, he said, recommended the sealed bid process.
A sealed bid, he explained, “provides for much wider marketing and direct marketing. It does not require the person to be on site and it gives them a serious opportunity to consider their final offer prior to making it.”
A school board attempt to sell of surplus school properties a few years ago was generally unsuccessful, and the city hopes its relationship with Sherman and Hemstreet and Blanchard and Calhoun will allow them greater reach and professional expertise in the field. The brokers will provide ordinary marketing activities, host onsite visits and otherwise monitor the process.
However, Brown made it clear that the commission would have the final say.
“At all times, the commission retains the right to reject or accept a bid,” he said. “You are not required, even though a bid may reach the target amount, to accept that bid, nor to give an explanation for your non-acceptance.”
In other words, the commissioners retain the right to make the process political. Whether they chose to utilize that right, however, remains to be seen.
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