Russell mulls hiring retail expert, downtown business owners say 'bring it on'

Retail downtown Augusta
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News 12 First at Five / Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There are too many abandoned storefronts and too little places to grab a bite to eat. That's the word from Augusta city administrator Fred Russell. He wants to pay someone to focus solely on retail. But with a multimillion dollar budget shortfall some commissioners are saying no way.

You can't miss the boarded up storefronts around town warning "this building is unfit for use."

"What we really need is retail down here." said Ooollee Bricker who owns Vintage Ooollie on Broad Street. "We have a lot of great restaurants and bars, but we need more retail."

Bricker says something has to change.

"We have got the TEE Center. They finally signed the deal on that." said Bricker. "That is going to be bringing more people down here. We need something to offer these people."

City administrator Fred Russell agrees. He plans to budget money to tackle the problem.

"We have got way too many storefronts that are empty," said Russell. "We have way too many places in the south-side that need services."

Russell wants to set aside at least $70,000 in next year's budget to tackle the problem.

"They can go for it." said mayor pro tem Joe Bowles. "But they don't have my support. When you get government involved, I think it is going to screw everything up."

Bowles says he is concerned about an expected $3 million to $5 million budget shortfall.

"At a time when you are going to be possibly laying people off," said Bowles. "I think that is definitely the wrong time to be adding people in something that the private industry already does on a daily basis."

But Bricker says the status quo is not working.

"It is nice to have mom and pops like me." said Bricker. "If you go to Savannah or Charleston or any other large city you will see there will be a couple of mom and pops and there is a big storefront like a Gap or something like that. That is what we need down here to draw more people."

This is one mom and pop not threatened by the big retail giants.

"Oh no. The more the merrier." said Bricker. "Bring it on."

The budget workshops start tomorrow and run through Thursday.

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