Revitalization continues in neighborhood where investigator was killed

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The community continues to honor fallen Investigator Cecil Ridley. Flags across the Augusta now fly at half staff.

Investigator Ridley was shot and killed in the line of duty Tuesday night at an Augusta convince store. Funeral arrangements are still pending.

For nearly 12 years, the city of Augusta has worked to bring new life to the Laney Walker/ Bethlehem neighborhood. It is the same neighborhood where Investigator Ridley was killed.

In 2008, the commission passed legislation to provide money for efforts to transform Laney Walker/ Bethlehem back into a thriving community. They have improved streets, built new homes and competed renovations on old houses.

Housing and Development Director Hawthorne Welcher says, following the death of a public servant, they will continue to push for change with an even stronger purpose.

“We will be sure from a Housing and Community Development Department that his legacy continues to live on,” Welcher said emphatically.

Welcher says Investigator Ridley’s commitment to reducing crime was a key part of the desired change.

“Such a tragic event from a standpoint of knowing exactly who he was, understanding the sheriff’s department and the work and working in close proximity and partnership with our department,” Welcher says.

Sheriff Richard Roundtree says Investigator Ridley was part of a gun violence initiative. In 15 days, deputies took 52 off Augusta streets. The suspect who shot and killed Investigator Ridley as he left a convenience store in the Laney Walker/ Bethlehem neighborhood had 3 illegal guns and drugs on him.

However, Welcher says in the last 12 years, they have seen a noticeable difference in the area.

“There is definitely a housing uptick whether you talk about single family housing from home ownership or rental or whether you talk about multi-family housing and those things,” Welcher explains. “Our focus right now is on the small business that’s sort of developing and sustaining in the area as well.”

Recently Housing and Development gave 15 small businesses a $10,000 grant and they plan to continue similar efforts.

The way the Housing and Development department carries out change is different from how the Sheriff’s Office carries out change; however, the heart of the matter is similar. Whether you are building new homes or ridding the streets of guns and drugs, the end goal is to provide a better community for the future. Welcher says they will continue to push for change in honor of Investigator Ridley.

“[We are going] to make sure that his legacy continues to live on. In regards to his commitment and dedication to Augusta, Georgia and what he was fighting for and not necessarily fighting, but trying to teach, coach and push young men. The sheriff’s department will continue to be a valid and vital partner in regards to everything that we do, in whatever neighborhoods that we touch,” Welcher says.

In fact, the city just received millions of dollars to continue the kind of change Welcher mentions. Part of the money will go towards improving homes in the Laney Walker/ Bethlehem neighborhood.

Augusta is the first and only city in the state to receive a $3.3 million grant to protect families from lead poisoning. The money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will go toward eliminating lead-based paint in homes where primarily children and seniors live. Welcher says the project will improve the health of future generations in low-income areas.

“A lot of focus is on abandonment, blight, asbestos and those things, but this focuses specifically on lead which can create some type of internal health matters and issues for your seniors and for your kids,” Welcher explains.

The lead-based paint hazard reduction program will focus on homes built before 1978. Thursday was a celebration of the work that starts at a later date. If you think your home meets these standards, you can reach out to the Housing and Development department at (706) 821-1797.

Photojournalist Gary Hipps

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