Monday, Augusta city leaders voted to approve the designation of nearly 600 acres downtown a "slum area."
The vote was approved three to one by the Finance Committee in an effort to qualify for state funding with Georgia's Urban Redevelopment Law. Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle was the one "no" vote.
Mike Walraven owns a glass art studio on Broad Street. He's outraged that city leaders are even considering titling the area a "slum."
"I'm already fighting so many negative perceptions about downtown: that it's dirty, that it's crime-ridden," said Walraven. "Now, the city leaders are going to tell the whole world that Augusta, downtown Augusta is a slum. Do you think people want to come downtown and shop then?"
City Administrator Fred Russell says using the term "slum area" would save the city a couple million dollars. It could also help with the municipal building renovations.
"It's a mechanism for funding," Russell told NBC 26. "It's a mechanism to help the city take advantage of cheaper rates by using non-tax funds. The terminology is horrible. I'll be the first to admit that."
The state law defines the term "slum area" with a list of characteristics that includes: "deteriorating structures," "inadequate street layout," and "unsanitary or unsafe conditions."
"I hate that the state law calls for the word slum to be used but it helps us access state funding and save local tax payers dollars so I am in favor of it," said Mayor Deke Copenhaver.
But, Copenhaver says downtown is "absolutely not" a slum.
"This is a state issue where the state requires you to use that term; that's it," he said. "It does not deem our downtown with our new convention center, our new library our new judicial center or all of the festivals we have coming. We are not a slum at all."
Some city leaders disagree with the decision to use the label.
" Downtown Augusta is not a slum area," said Commissioner Bill Lockett. "So, I think we need to use other means to obtain that money."
Lockett says the perception that comes with the label is not worth the money.
" I've noticed that it's been in the media in Savannah and Athens and everywhere else," he continued. "And someone that's contemplating moving to Augusta or establishing a business here, you say that you got 500 and some acres downtown that's a slum area. It's going to make you think twice."
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