TEE Center fate uncertain as commission meets this afternoon

Today’s Augusta Commission meeting is the last one scheduled before Aug. 31, the date businessman Julian Osbon says a deal on selling property for a Hyatt hotel will collapse, and so far no compromise has been met for funding the trade, exhibit and event center and Laney-Walker/Bethlehem revitalization.

Commissioner Joe Jackson, who placed “discuss/update path forward relative to TEE Center” on today’s agenda, said he believes some form of action will get six votes today, but other commissioners aren’t so optimistic.

“I think it’ll probably be removed” from the agenda, Don Grantham said.

Asked what he expects, J.R. Hatney said, “Reality-wise, I really don’t know. I can’t tell you no more than that.”

Mr. Osbon said his contract to sell one of four properties that will make up the site of a new Hyatt Place Hotel & Business Center, across from the TEE center on Reynolds Street, expires at the end of the month. It’s already been extended twice, he said, and unless he sees some convincing sign that commissioners are moving forward on the exposition center, he won’t extend it again.

The issue has had the commission divided along racial lines since early May. Mr. Hatney contends that the TEE center could have been built years ago with the $20 million raised through a bond issued against sales taxes, and now there could be nearly $30 million on hand to get started if interest earnings and excess collections are factored in. The problem, Mr. Hatney says, is that the white commissioners want to issue even more debt to build a $38 million TEE center and a parking deck costing $12 to $17 million.

“Somebody should ask the question of why the TEE center hasn’t been built already,” Mr. Hatney said.

He said he wants an equitable companion plan for rehabbing Laney-Walker and Bethlehem, which were attached to the TEE center in 2007 in a deal to get a sixth vote on a site and operating agreement with Augusta Riverfront LLC.

Mr. Hatney wouldn’t discuss specifics, but according to Mr. Jackson and City Administrator Fred Russell, Mr. Hatney has suggested taking $300,000 per year from beer taxes – currently going to the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority – and putting it toward inner-city revitalization bonds, allowing $8.5 million to be raised up front as opposed to $7.5 million.

Coupled with $750,000 per year from the $1-a-night hotel fee, that would put the annual figure going to Laney-Walker and Bethlehem at $1.05 million.

But taking $300,000 per year from the coliseum authority could problematic, seeing as how the authority’s accountant has predicted that it will already be $100,000 in the red with the $1 million Mr. Russell proposes to pull from its current share of hotel/motel taxes to put toward TEE center bonds.

Mr. Russell said he’s not expecting the TEE center plan to be resolved today, either.

“I don’t think there’s enough votes to get it passed,” he said.

The meeting starts at 2 p.m. in commission chambers following a 1 p.m. work session on the Transportation Development Plan for Augusta Public Transit.

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