0

Blair prepares State of Downtown address

Albany Downtown Manager Aaron Blair stands at the corner of Tift Avenue and Jackson Street in the Historic Old Northside district which will be part of a tour of homes.

Albany Downtown Manager Aaron Blair stands at the corner of Tift Avenue and Jackson Street in the Historic Old Northside district which will be part of a tour of homes.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Aaron Blair smiles at the raised eyebrows that follow his statement. He expected as much.

photo

Joe Bellacomo

Work continues along the 100 block of Pine Avenue Wednesday as part of the ADICA projects designed to improve the city’s downtown district.

"I don't have anyone's private bank statements or anything like that," he says, "but based on my best-guess speculation, the figures are as close to accurate as you can get."

The figures are certainly worthy of the surprise they generate: Over the past two years -- the two years that Blair has served as Albany's downtown manager -- private money spent on the city's Central Business District is a full five times greater than public money spent. As in $3 million vs. $600,000.

"It always gets me when people complain about all the (public) money being spent downtown," Blair said. "What they don't know about me is that I am tight with money (allocated through the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority, for which Blair also serves as CEO) that is available. I am very frugal.

"The biggest things we've spent money on are (purchasing) the (historic downtown) Albany Theatre and the property for the art park (on Pine Avenue). Together, those cost less than $300,000."

Blair has put together a "State of Downtown" presentation that he will deliver to the public Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Flint RiverQuarium's Imagination Theater. He will, as required, send copies of the presentation to the Albany and Dougherty County commissions and the Dougherty County School Board, the three taxing authorities in the county.

"We hope the public will come out for the presentation; we'd really like to get input from them," Blair said. "I'll make the presentation and then answer any questions. And I don't plan to sugar-coat anything. If it's bad, I'll say it's bad."

The Central District took a hit Wednesday when Dale Saunders, owner of the Riverfront Bar-B-Q restaurant on West Broad Avenue, announced plans to close the establishment at the end of the month.

But Blair said he was aware that Saunders was considering the move. Riverfront Bar-B-Q is one of three or four downtown businesses that he says "are having issues."

"It's a tough time to start a business anywhere," Blair said. "We are working with our businesses to help them any way we can, but there's only so much we can do. We hate that Dale has decided to leave, but he has to do what's best for his business. We only wish him well.

"I don't believe -- and (property owner) Mr. (Bob) Brooks has indicated he's confident -- that that location will stay vacant long, if at all. There's no one business that's going to make or break downtown."

Blair's State of Downtown presentation will include explanations of the Tax Allocation District (TAD) that this year brought in some $200,000 in new tax money, the boundaries of the specific downtown districts, an overview of new businesses and business prospects in the district, and the plans and goals established for downtown over the next three years.

Among the information Blair will provide is an overview of the loss and gain of businesses downtown in his two years on the job. Detractors will be surprised to learn that the Central Business District added 24 new businesses in 2011 and 2012 and has lost five (including Riverfront Bar-B-Q). Three other businesses in the district have expanded during that time.

"I'll show, geographically, the storefronts that are vacant vs. the ones that are occupied," he said. "That's the only way I can look at it. We'll also talk about prospects."

It's those prospects that have Blair and other city officials excited. They include a new, finer dining establishment that will take up two vacant storefronts, an art gallery that will feature works of local artists, streetscape projects along most of the Central Business District (including one on Pine Avenue that is currently under way) and ongoing efforts to bring residents downtown.

"That's going to be key, getting the residential element," City Manager James Taylor said. "I've been to places like Greenville, S.C., and Savannah, and I've seen what (adding residents to the equation) can do. The old adage in economic development is that retail follows rooftops. For our downtown, I think that's especially true.

"My easy answer about the current state of our downtown is that, no, I'm not satisfied with where we are. But I also know that region faces a lot of challenges. We have businesses in trouble there, but guess what: We have businesses in trouble all over the city and all over the region. We're working under the assumption that there is no magic bullet, that things will not turn around overnight."

While many in the community say they doubt there is a market for downtown living, there are a growing number who disagree. Chief among them currently is artist Sean Mulkey, who is living in a loft apartment on West Broad.

"I'll tell you that, for my circumstances, living downtown has been bliss; it's awesome," Mulkey said. "It's working out fine for me; it's something I've always wanted to do. I love getting up in the morning and walking to a restaurant to have breakfast.

"I have had no (security) problems whatsoever, and I guess the only complaint I have is that everything is so quiet at night. That's why I think it's important to bring in some kind of night life. I believe when more of those kinds of things are available, there will be more people looking to make a move downtown."

Blair said that future plans downtown also call for a continued push for development and refurbishment of the Old Northside Neighborhood between the Central Business District and the health care community surrounding Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

"In any large city, it is the distressed neighborhoods around the downtown area that are major causes of concern," he said. "We want to revitalize the Old Northside Neighborhood, and we're going to reach out to Phoebe and ask them to be on the team with us. We feel it will benefit them as well as the downtown district.

"We're giving a house and community tour of the neighborhood Saturday, and it's free. We encourage the community to make reservations (229-438-3999) and come see the steps that we've already taken."

The negativism that surrounds efforts to revitalize Albany's downtown makes his job that much harder, Blair admits. He knows a lot of that sentiment stems from the tenure of his predecessor, Don Buie, who left office in disgrace after being arrested for financial mismanagement.

But the equation is evened out somewhat by downtown business owners like Jason and Mendy Warren, who say their Our Daily Bread restaurant is "a growing business" and who praise Blair for his efforts on their behalf.

"There are elements of this job that have been stressful; I'm not going to lie," Blair said. "But we knew the challenges coming in. It can be hard to stay positive, but (Blair's wife) Jessica (who owns a successful upscale consignment store downtown) and I have made a commitment to Albany. Trust me, we would not have left Naples (Fla.) if we hadn't wanted to come here.

"I plan to keep working to make Albany's downtown better. That's the only way I know how to do things. But I've told my (ADICA) board that if they're not happy with the way I'm doing things to tell my boss (Taylor). The only way I don't want to be here is if you don't want me here."

Comments

Sister_Ruby 1 year, 3 months ago

Here's a free tip for Mr. Blair. Be sure to follow Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's lead for events like this and line up about a hundred "witnesses for the defense" who will agree to monopolize the Q&A time with "Offerings of Praise and Worship" at the State of Downtown" affair. They can tell the attendees all of the great anecdotal (and mostly made up) stories about how great it's going. They don't even have to be from within a 70 mile radius! Include rogue State Representatives if you like! And Carlton Fletcher can then dutifully repeat them for several successive days in the Herald. It will be a great charade!

One more tip........don't send any photographers down there to take pictures...........there ain't much to take pictures of these days except empty store fronts.

0

iijin 1 year, 3 months ago

Get over yourself, grandstanding blow hard...

2

urbanpurpose 1 year, 3 months ago

Nice article. I think I kinda like this guy. I agree with fixing the surrounding neighborhoods. Looking back at 2 years ago I did not know we had 20 something less businesses. Wow. That's crazy. Seems empty now how about 20 less. I say good job

3

urbanpurpose 1 year, 3 months ago

Sister ruby, seriously do you not have anything better to do but be negative. When did you last go down there. So hurtful to speak like that towards the place we live. How many comments till its a racial issue?

0

Sister_Ruby 1 year, 3 months ago

I am "down there" every week. Several times a week in fact...and I know what I am witnessing with my one good eye. Do you think you can make something be "good" just by saying so? Can you make a dying thing live just by saying it looks healthy?

Please don't confuse my comments about the reality by thinking I wish it were different.

Doesn't the phrase "down there" have an awful ring to it? Are you "up there"? And when you come to town do you go "down there"? You better examine your value system, son.

1

Sister_Ruby 1 year, 3 months ago

One important area that Blair should address: "What has changed that has led to the departure of so many businesses.....especially restaurants?" Like my Mamma always said "Peoples gots to Eat!"

Have an open mind.

1

whattheheck 1 year, 3 months ago

You're right about what's peoples got to do, Ruby. But perhaps the situation downtown is like a sign in an Albany blue plate dinner years ago: "If you is broke, you ain't hungry!" Are there enough downtown workers with eat out money to support many eateries that are only open for lunch? Vitals aren't reach cheap for peoples who don't make much money and if your choices are eat at Riverfront or make another payment on the Phoebe bill, the peoples might opt for PB&J on most days.

2

outsider 1 year, 3 months ago

Sister ruby u need to get a life!! I logged on to read this Just to prove a point- that you always have something to say & it's never good! I think u should change your name to Debbie Downer. I predict by tomorrow you'll have turned this whole comment section into a racial war zone!! You are an idiot!! And to answer your question, you can't make a dying thing live by saying it's healthy, but there's enough people in Albany who are Hell bent on being negative JUST LIKE YOU!! Isn't it time SOMEBODY breathed some sort of life into this area? Just a thought. "Life & death are in the power of the tongue"

2

dingleberry 1 year, 3 months ago

"That's going to be key, getting the residential element," City Manager James Taylor said. "I've been to places like Greenville, S.C., and Savannah, and I've seen what (adding residents to the equation) can do. The old adage in economic development is that retail follows rooftops. For our downtown, I think that's especially true.

Uh, Jim, we aren't in Kansas anymore and I am not Toto! Albany is dying on the vine and we can't get an increase in population period much less a significant increase downtown unless in subsidized housing or shelters. Look at populations and economic prosperity for the three cities and you will see two improving for the past 20 years and one in a death spiral.

1

waltspecht 1 year, 3 months ago

A truthful statement by Mr. Blair would be "So far I haven't earned my pay". There have been too many people saying he is aloof, and they have never put an eyeball on him. He has never stopped by, nor even called. These are and were folks trying to make a living in Downtown Albany.

2

chinaberry25 1 year, 3 months ago

I have the Best Buy attitude, the pay scale in Albany is not high enough to praise its greatness. The eateries downtown are good, but 85 % of Albany is on reduced or free lunches. That figure will never ever change regardless of the jobs or businesses created. When rent is off the charts how can businesses make it. $4000/mo on one meal a day cannot be. Paula Deen told a story about her business downtown and laid out a framework. Even she serves 2 meals 7 days a week. On Sunday, Cuthbert, GA is busier than downtown Albany and this is a weekend day. As Ruby stated, I myself have lived her all my life and go there all the time. Look at the library, closed it and has not even gotten a contractor yet. This is a poorly run town and the library is a good example of it. Without the library, many folks never ever go downtown. Even the churches are leaving.

2

outsider 1 year, 3 months ago

Waltspecht, what article are u reading? That was never mentioned about Mr blair not earning his pay. A city manager's job description does not include babysitting or personal loan giver to those who can't make it on their own. What you've got is a whole lot of whining!! His job is not business bail out! If these businesses can't make it on their own they deserve to fail! And as far as riverfront BBQ goes, if u can't survive making $800,000 a year, then U Suck at business management!!

2

waltspecht 1 year, 3 months ago

I'm not reading articles, simply following comments made in this outlet for frustration since he has taken over.

0

oldster 1 year, 3 months ago

The "Downtown" area of most cities have been deteriorating since WWII when the automobile made it easy to live in the suburbs and drive to work, shopping etc. Before the auto, downtown shopping districts made sense. As long as we have cars and can drive to shop, downtown will never be what it was a half century ago. And IF you had something that many people living out of town wanted to go to in the downtown, where would they park? The parking lot at the mall or at Wal-Mart is nearly as big as the entire down town. Plus Albany is not a big city with a big population, there are not a lot of potential shoppers out there. People have moved "out" of town to live as well and the shopping areas, restaurants etc. have moved with them. The solution to a revitalized downtown is different for every medium sized city like Albany, and I don't have the answers.

1

sowegap 1 year, 3 months ago

Last year I had to go back and forth to Augusta and was amazed at the number of small towns and cities that had vibrant and successful downtown areas.

0

dingleberry 1 year, 3 months ago

There is plenty of parking available downtown thanks to the taxpayer funded parking garages.

0

FryarTuk 1 year, 3 months ago

People have voted with their dollars and their feet. Millions of dollars have been wasted on downtown. Listen to the market. Make downtown offices and the Cookie Shoppe. The rooftops that will be built will be section 8 rentals, welfare or foreclosures. If you want to be positive, let's talk about something that will do some good. For example, consolidation of public services and administration - law enforcment communications, law enforcement departments, governmental structures. Etc. That would be exciting discussions. If this community is going to survive it has to address fundamentals. Businesses and citizens can pay no more taxes. You can add all kinds of SPLOST to spend but that is just driving people away. It's really depressing that few people in the press and government are addressing cause and effect.

1

dingleberry 1 year, 3 months ago

Let's talk about cutting spending for a change. More money would be realized that way than consolidations. Neither are likely to happen, however, because there are still a few taxpayers to milk and federal dollars to suck up,

0

jewels2 1 year, 3 months ago

Thank you Mr Blair! The time, energy and attention you have and continue to give Downtown is noticed. You have continued to keep the budget in line and offer excellent downtown entertainment options.
Is there work to be done? Yes! Can it be accomplished by a party of one? No! Please y'all, join in and let's move our community forward in positive direction

0

jewels2 1 year, 3 months ago

I do not have all the answers , and for the most part I am not sure of all the questions: but maybe, just maybe we could put the civic center under a private for profit company/ individual and place that into the overall forward growth of Downtown! Maybe?

0

CaptMurdock 1 year, 3 months ago

Blair has done a lot of work for downtown. He's gotten support from a good deal of folks, but these people aren't enough sometimes to sustain downtown sometimes. Folks are afraid to come to downtown for fear of safety, yet this area has one of the lowest crime rates in the city. If you argue there is nothing to do downtown, then have not opened your eyes or ears to the events that go on down there. There are too many Debbie Downers commenting on this post or any other post supporting downtown or anything that happens downtown. Take a challenge, show up for the Blair's State of Downtown address. I assure you that I will be there and other folks that want to see DT Albany revitalized. If you support Blair, then please show up. But it's the folks that don't support Blair and don't support DT to come see for yourselves what's going on see the folks that are trying to make a difference. Take a little pride in your town or keep your mouth shut.

0

Cartman 1 year, 3 months ago

So now we know what Mr Blair looks like. His posts in the comments to this article are a little too obvious though.

0

jewels2 1 year, 3 months ago

Great job Mr. Blair. You have a vision and a backbone to move us forward with a positive attitude. Thank you all you do!

0

urbanpurpose 1 year, 3 months ago

Cartman I haven't seen him post on this story yet. I asked him at the last ADICA meeting if he reads comments and he said sometimes. He told me his comment name is theaAaronblair just for future reference

0

urbanpurpose 1 year, 3 months ago

I actually think everyone on her should post their real name and business. Its easy to comment behind a fake name

0

aaronblair 1 year, 3 months ago

Good morning. Urban Purpose & Cartman, My actual user name is aaronblair. My number is 229-438-3999 and my email is ablair@albany.ga.us . I am available anytime someone has a question and/or concern.

waltspecht and sister_ruby, I’m free anytime you ever want to discuss Downtown. I will meet whenever it is convenient for you or via email if that is better.

0

KaosinAlbany 1 year, 3 months ago

Come downtown on January 25th to the Silver's Building on Washington Street for the Deck of Arts! It's from 8:00 p.m. until 12:00 p.m. There is local art and local muscians! It's a free event so come on down and join the fun!

1

Sign in to comment