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Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 2:06pm

Historic Black Neighborhoods Embrace Future

This week the first new house was sold under a project to revitalize two historic African-American communities in Augusta.

For decades the Laney Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods have been plagued by abandoned properties and overgrown lots.

The neglect turned the area into a hot spot for crime.

Augusta officials say the $37 million effort to tear down those boarded up homes and build new ones is breathing new life into the communities.

The money comes from a $1-a-night hotel tax passed in 2007.

Chester Wheeler is with Augusta’s Community Development Department. He says the sale of the project’s first new home is a milestone.

"There were a lot of nay-sayers who did not believe that it could be done and I think we showed all of Augusta that it could happen," says Wheeler.

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver says he hopes the city’s initial investment will attract private developers looking for a good deal in the down economy.

"A recession is not a bad time to plan and really lay a foundation for moving ahead in the future," says Copenhaver. "I believe that’s what we’ve done in Laney Walker/Bethlehem and selling this first home speaks to that."

Copenhaver says the revitalized area will be a good draw for families because it’s close to several magnet schools and the Georgia Health Sciences University.

Sales of three other homes there are currently in negotiations.