Here’s a question: when confirmation that an organization is headed in the right direction comes from a group that organization is paying, does that mean they’re really headed in the right direction, or does it mean they’ve hired smart people who know who’s writing the checks?
In the case of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the answer’s more than a little murky.
If you listen to Chuck Branch, a partner in Retail Strategies, the consulting group hired by the DDA to do a downtown retail study, the DDA is on top of things and doing fine work, even if most of it goes unnoticed by the community at large.
That falls in line with what the DDA likes to say about itself — that most of its success occurs behind the scenes.
“Really, we do a lot,” the argument goes. “Just not the kind of stuff that gets noticed.”
Quick — name one thing the DDA has done.
Parking meters? Never implemented.
You tell people that Margaret Woodard, the DDA’s executive director, pulls a yearly salary of approximately $85,000, and once the eyebrows go down, people tend to get a little put out. Already suspicious of government excess, people seem to feel Woodard pretty much exemplifies it.
Woodard’s leverage was always linked to the Business Improvement District, a section of the downtown where property owners voluntarily paid higher taxes to fund specialized services provided by the Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative (CADI). The BID gave her legitimacy, or at least a reason for being there.
Of course she promptly subbed out the work of the CADI, so even then, people wondered what Woodard did other than oversee the expensive outside management of a relatively small local program.
Then, in December of 2013, commissioners voted not to renew the BID.
No BID, no CADI.
Though the downtown area is certainly far from clean, the truth of the matter is, a lot of property owners never thought it was all that great-looking under CADI. As for the safety aspect — the eyes on the ground that Woodard liked to promote as an added benefit of having CADI personnel out and about — Sheriff Roundtree has helped fill that void by creating a downtown safety initiative with three community safety officers and four certified deputies.
So now, Chuck Branch is reporting back to the DDA that the two biggest things investors want to see before they commit to downtown Augusta are a Business Improvement District and a comprehensive parking plan.
Convenient, isn’t it?