- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:


Dec. 13

Savannah Morning News on the U.S. General Services Administration proposing to tear down two buildings built in 1986 and replace them with one:

The federal government should not inflict Savannah’s Historic District with another architectural train wreck that will detract from the historic impact of the city’s Oglethorpe Plan, which dates back to the founding of the Georgia colony and the establishment of Savannah as this nation’s first planned city.

The U.S. General Services Administration is proposing to tear down two buildings built in 1986 on the east side of Telfair Square, and mocked as the “bathroom buildings” because their horrid exterior cladding is more suited for shower stalls than on a public building in a city known for architectural protection and preservation.

The demolition is a good thing. Tearing down these two buildings represents progress, as it eliminates two significant eyesores.

Unfortunately, it appears that the GSA wants to replace these two buildings with one single eyesore, a structure that is just as bad - an annex building that does not conform to the neighborhood or to established design standards. Indeed, as proposed, it’s an embarrassment.

That’s why the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission staff is recommending denial when the design is presented for consideration today to the Savannah Historic District Board of Review. We encourage the appointed board to follow the staff recommendation and send a message to the GSA that what it wants to build is unacceptable for that special urban location. It’s more suited for a bland, cookie-cutter office complex in the suburbs.

The proposed two-story building has too much dead space, is too low and appears squat and sprawling, while the glass tower that would serve as the central portion of the building would be built over President Street, which divides the two lots, and interrupt the district’s historic grid pattern, according to MPC officials.

While some design changes could be made to make the structures on the side of the glass tower acceptable, the closing of President Street is a non-starter, said Ellen Harris, director of urban planning and historic preservation.

“That is the main issue - just because of the impact on the Oglethorpe Plan,” Harris said. “In some ways that is unforgivable.”

She’s right. And perhaps even more aggravating, there are plenty of creative architects in Savannah who could have helped the GSA come up with a better design. But it appears that they weren’t consulted. Otherwise, the GSA would have submitted something that the MPC staff might have approved.

That is the real unforgivable part.

Older citizens will remember the public controversy that swirled when the GSA built the existing structures, and the last-minute substitution of cheaper exterior tile that had not been approved. Preservations and the general public were outraged by the GSA’s callous disregard for history and the Oglethorpe Plan.

Unfortunately, it appears that the GSA is gearing up for a rerun of 1986. There’s no question that the federal judges need the annex as the existing Tomochichi courthouse is too cramped and outdated. However, that marble courthouse is a splendid architectural treasure. Putting a squat annex right next to it is like parking a muddy tractor next to a shiny Rolls Royce or hanging a painting of dogs playing poker next to the Mona Lisa.

Fortunately, there seems to be time for the GSA to institute a re-do of the annex design. After all, the final result will be around for decades, and the federal government must do it correctly and be sensitive to the public’s concerns and build something that complements the neighborhood and adheres to the Oglethorpe Plan. Federal taxpayers who are paying for this annex want something that will last and stand the test of time and history.

Unfortunately, the federal project is exempt from the local review process, however, so a denial from the Historic Review Board would not prevent the project from moving forward. Still, GSA officials said they were committed to going through the process, Ms. Harris said, although she is not sure if they are willing to make any changes to the plan.

Throughout the design process staff has consistently reiterated the importance of keeping the street open, she said.

It’s disappointing that the GSA apparently went back on its word and didn’t listen to any local folks and arrogantly brushed off local concerns. Perhaps Congressman Buddy Carter, who represents Georgia’s 1st District, and Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson should make some calls to GSA Administrator Emily Murphy in Washington and remind her how important it is for her agency to keep its promises to maintain the historic character of this city and why the GSA should cooperate in coming up with an acceptable design.

Again the issue is not the function of the new building, which can be defended as needed. The annex would allow the judiciary to meet its current and long-term security, accessibility and operational needs by providing 46,000 square feet of space and 25 secured parking spaces. It will include one bankruptcy courtroom and related chambers, as well as an office for US Probation and Pretrial Services.

Instead, the issue is one of form. The design-build contract was awarded to Alabama-based Hoar Construction and almost $33 million was authorized for the project. That should be plenty of money for a good design. Construction is expected to begin in the fall and take two years to complete.

Online: http://savannahnow.com/


Dec. 12

The Augusta Chronicle on a proposed new sports and entertainment arena:

Dracula is famously difficult to kill. Even so, a stake through the heart usually does the trick.

Not so, apparently, with the idea of building a new sports and entertainment arena at the unfortunate site of the old Regency Mall.

Even after the Augusta Commission voted the idea down 7-1 last week, supporters are still pushing it. Commissioner Marion Williams put it on the commission’s Administrative Services committee Tuesday.

“I don’t care if I don’t have support - I’m going to keep it in their face,” Williams said before the committee’s 2-2 stalemate - and carrying on as if anger, defiance and obstinacy were sound foundations for making public policy.

The community’s best hope for reason and prudence is for the commission to reject the proposal yet again at its next full meeting Dec. 19.

“It won’t be done till it’s done,” says Commissioner Ben Hasan, whose errant initial “yes” vote on the Regency site Dec. 5 gave it brief and unexpected life before the commission reconsidered and voted 7-1 against it.

“I think it will be put to rest Dec. 19.”

Heaven have mercy, let’s hope so.

The ill-conceived proposal to locate a new James Brown Arena so far away from its current site - the one that the hired expert consultants have recommended - seems to have flowed from some unknown source whose only known wellspring is Mayor Hardie Davis’ office.

Common sense tells you, and experts will confirm, that an arena whose lights go on perhaps 70 times a year is not capable of inspiring the kind of 365-day-a-year restaurant, retail and hotel development on the mall’s Gordon Highway corridor that supporters hope and claim.

In contrast, the arena both feeds off, and feeds, the existing and growing restaurants and shops and hotels at its current location downtown.

The decision of the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority - whose bizarre and hasty 4-2 vote in favor of the mall site in August started this ball of string unraveling - is all the more perplexing knowing how downtown potential is bursting at the seams with expansion of the cyber industry in the area.

Building an arena so far away from this building boom would be a multimillion-dollar blunder.

It’s up to Augusta commissioners to put a stake in its undead heart.

Once and for all.

Online: http://chronicle.augusta.com/


Dec. 12

The News of Brunswick on a property tax exemption that school officials estimated has cost more than $37 million in lost revenue:

Glynn County’s delegation to the General Assembly will have many things on their plates this coming January when the House and Senate reconvene.

Among them we hope is a move to change the language of a bill that has allowed many more people than were intended to avoid paying their portion of property taxes set aside for the local school system.

Senate Bill 486 was approved by voters in 2008 with a ballot question that read, “Shall the Act be approved which provides a homestead exemption from Glynn County School District ad valorem taxes for educational purposes for the full value of the homestead for residents of that school district who are 65 years of age or older and whose income does not exceed $40,000.”

Make no mistake, the bill - as it was intended to be applied - is good. It is supposed to give senior citizens who live on a fixed income a break on their annual property taxes. The problem is that the $40,000 is based on income after all other exemptions, deductions and adjustments have been applied.

So, rather than just a select group of older folks who truly do not make more than $40,000 per year, the school system has realized there are people making sometimes more than $150,000 in gross income who are qualifying.

Since the exemption went into effect in 2010, school system officials have estimated more than $37 million in lost revenue from the bill. While there will always be some lost revenue, it is doubtful the schools would be giving up the more than $5 million per year it has if the wording in the law was tweaked.

Like members of the board of education, we support the overall intended purpose of the bill. They have complained about the unintended effects of the law for years, but still nothing has been done.

The board signed a resolution in October to request local legislators change the wording so the exemption is based on gross income - before all other exemptions and deductions are applied.

This is a simple language change that would go a long way to get things back to where they were intended.

We encourage the local delegation to consider the school board’s request to revisit the bill so the school board can work with the full amount of revenue it is supposed to receive.

Online: http://thebrunswicknews.com/

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