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Booker T. Washington Apartments may be redeveloped

The Columbus Housing Authority is considering redeveloping the Booker T. Washington Apartments area with a Hope VI or Choice Neighborhoods program.

Len Williams, executive director of the Columbus Housing Authority, said extensive meetings will be held with stakeholders and residents before any decision moves forward at Fourth Street and Veterans Parkway.

“We’ll try to decide what is the best use for that area,” Williams said Wednesday after a monthly meeting with commissioners.

The board delayed action on adding $230,000 to an existing contract with the Boulevard Group, a consulting firm that would write the grant if the Housing Authority pursued federal help to redevelop the area.

“Money would not be spent unless we applied for the Hope VI grant for BTW,” said Amy Moore, chief real estate officer for the Housing Authority.

Developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Hope VI program is aimed at revitalizing the worst public housing complexes into mixed-use developments. Since the program started in 1992, 254 Hope VI grants have been awarded to 132 housing authorities, totaling more than $6.1 billion.

Columbus already has taken advantage of the program, transforming the former Peabody Apartments on Talbotton Road into Ashley Station. Baker Village, one of the city’s largest public housing complexes, also was razed to improve the Benning Road neighborhood with town homes under a new name, Arbor Pointe.

Williams said the time is right to consider a plan for Booker T. Washington Apartments, a public housing complex with 392 apartments scattered over 17.3 acres.

“The age of the property is 70 years old,” Williams said. “It’s in good shape but it’s kind of obsolete. Rooms are small, stairwells are small,” he said. “There is not very much else we can do with it.”

The location of the housing complex also makes it accessible for people who want to sell drugs.

“They come in and out of there,” he said. “That is really a problem.”

Unlike the new housing developments at Arbor Pointe and Ashley Station, Williams said it will take more time to get a sense of what happens to the area. The site may work better without housing or with a combination of uses. It is surrounded by commercial activity with the Columbus Civic Center across the street, a convenience store to the west and auto repair businesses and other shops north along Veterans Parkway.

“We would definitely level it,” Williams said of the complex. “You could decide some of the property is better for commercial and do other housing.”

Planning for the next step will take at least six months. At a cost of some $250,000 to $300,000, the Housing Authority hopes to apply for a grant next year or in 2012.

“I think we are very excited about it,” Williams said.

Ben Wright, 706-571-8576

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