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Multimodal inches ahead; no bids for L'Jua's property

No bids came in for L’Jua’s restaurant at 704 Radium Springs Road, Albany city officials learned Tuesday. The restaurant is on the auction block after the city acquired it to recoup funds. City officials hope to realize at least $275,000 from the sale of the property and now are looking at listing it with a real estate agent. (Staff photo: Jim Hendricks)

No bids came in for L’Jua’s restaurant at 704 Radium Springs Road, Albany city officials learned Tuesday. The restaurant is on the auction block after the city acquired it to recoup funds. City officials hope to realize at least $275,000 from the sale of the property and now are looking at listing it with a real estate agent. (Staff photo: Jim Hendricks)

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Albany City Commissioner Ivey Hines prepares for Tuesday’s work session of the Albany City Commission. Commissioners got updates on a major roadway project on North Jefferson Street, a restaurant the city is trying to sell and progress on the ongoing multimodal transit project. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — Progress is inching forward on the city of Albany’s long-delayed multimodal transit project, now some 15 years in the making, as Phase I environmental reviews of the three sites considered by city officials came back with no issues.

Assistant City Manager Wes Smith, in an update presented to Albany city commissioners at their work session Tuesday morning, said the next step in the arduous process would be a complete environmental assessment on the commission’s preferred site, the current bus depot at 300 W. Oglethorpe Blvd. Smith said the assessment would cost “around $200,000,” leading Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell to call for a ranking of the sites.

“We just spent $200,000 on (a proposed site at Washington Street at Roosevelt Avenue), and we didn’t end up using it,” Postell said. “I don’t want to do that again.”

Postell eventually offered a motion to have staff recommend a ranking of the three sites proposed for the project, but his motion died for lack of a second.

When Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard said he didn’t want to leave “a project that took us 20 years to complete” as part of his legacy, City Manager James Taylor said, “You’re already close.”

Smith said the environmental assessment at the 300 W. Oglethorpe site would take between eight and 10 months.

City Attorney Nathan Davis told commissioners the city had received no bids on the 704 Radium Springs Road L’Jua’s restaurant property, leaving the city holding the property. Davis suggested having a real estate agent list the property in an attempt to recoup the city’s investment.

As second lien-holder on the property, the city paid off a $100,000 first lien to Capitol City Bank so that it could recoup delinquent grant money repayment owed by former L’Jua’s owner LaJuana Woods. Woods received “around $90,000 in HUD grants,” according to Community and Economic Development attorney Sam Engram.

Davis said the starting bid at the auction on the courthouse steps was $275,000. Asked about the price of the property, Taylor said, “The price is set by federal law. We must recoup the money owed on it by the former owner, or we could end up having to pay any difference.”

Commissioners tentatively approved $89,300 in Housing and Urban Development HOME funding for private developer R&M Marketplace to renovate homes at 2407 Doncaster Drive and 413 Corn Ave. as low- or moderate-income infill housing. R&M principle Orlando Rambo said the for-profit company had secured $212,500 in financing for the project and that HOME funds would be used for development, closing and other related costs.

“We want to do more projects like this, and Heritage Bank has told us they’re interested in further financing, but they want to see us complete this project on budget and on time,” Rambo said. “This (HOME) funding will allow us to do that.”

City officials also voted to approve slightly more than $250,000 in Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax VI funds to complete a storage facility for the Albany Fire Department at its 115 Honeysuckle Drive training facility. AFD Chief James Carswell said because of value engineering, in-kind work provided by city departments and a donation by Merck Chemical, “taxpayers will get a $434,000 building for $251,000.”

“Our equipment is literally scattered at our 11 stations currently,” Carswell said. “Money for a central storage facility was approved in the SPLOST VI referendum, but before that passed we had asked Merck if they could relocate one of their storage buildings that they were about to tear down at our facilities.

“There was discussion about contamination at the plant, and they told us it would be better for them to donate toward building a new facility. We asked if they’d be willing to contribute $50,000, and they said, ‘How about $100,000?’ Of course, we jumped on it.”

At the end of the meeting, officials with the state Department of Transportation, in town for a public forum scheduled to discuss the Jefferson Street Interchange project currently under construction, cleared up misconceptions about the project.

“There will be no lane closures from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.,” DOT Area Engineer Bill Cooper said. “There will be closures later at night, but there will always be lanes open (on Jefferson) moving north and south. And while we’ll close the ramps (off U.S. 19) when we’re specifically working on them, there will still be entry and exit off the bypass.”

Oxford Construction Co. Project Manager Jay Griffith showed commissioners a drawing that included the location of a temporary traffic light off the U.S. 19 westbound Jefferson Street exit that will allow traffic to enter onto Jefferson in either direction. That exit currently allows only northbound traffic.

Cooper said the proposed completion date for the project is December 2015.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike suggested making a sound study one of the conditions for approval of a rezoning request that would allow development of a Homerun Foods/Dunkin’ Donuts establishment at 2307 Dawson Road.