TEE meeting yields few results

Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009 8:58 PM
Last updated Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010 10:44 PM
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With far from the usual fireworks surrounding the issue, the first meeting of the Augusta Commission’s TEE center subcommittee was a low-key affair, a rehash on why a site on Reynolds Street is considered the best place to put a new trade, exhibit and event center.

Afterward, one committee member, Corey Johnson, said he was less than impressed.

“I didn’t have a clue that we were going to re-hear all the things we’ve already heard before,” he said. “We need to be figuring out whether we can make it happen.”

Mayor Deke Copenhaver, a subcommittee member, formed it last month in a last-ditch attempt by commissioners to forge a deal on funding the project, which has had the board sharply divided since early May. Other members are commissioners Joe Bowles, J.R. Hatney and Joe Jackson.

The mayor put the meetings on hold while the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case of David Fry, an attorney charged with trying to bribe two commissioners into changing their votes on the TEE center.

On Thursday, Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Barry White went over how multiple sites were studied, including the James Brown Arena, the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property and the former Watermark site, and none will work as well as the location adjacent to the existing convention center inside the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites.

An architect from Atlanta-based tvsdesign went over schematics for the building, which would have 40,000 square feet of exhibition space and would incorporate an historic old cotton warehouse at the corner of Reynolds and Ninth streets.

Studies found potential customers overwhelmingly prefer that location, plus it’s connected to hotel rooms, is near the Savannah River and would have room to expand, Mr. White said.

Mr. Johnson didn’t buy it, and questioned Mr. White’s slide presentation showing a list of “cons” for other sites, but only “pros” for the Reynolds Street site. He said he can name one con – no parking.

Mr. White said the study was done several years ago, and yes, parking lost when the building goes up would need to be replaced.

“At that time, in 2005, we did not hear any cons from the hotel developers,” Mr. White said.

Mr. Hatney questioned how, with Mr. White saying the city could bring in conventions of 600 people, they could be accommodated in the 370-room Marriott and 130-room planned Hyatt hotel, since neither is going to give up all its rooms at one time.

“We want to get out and get events that need 10 hotels,” Mr. White responded.

Mr. Copenhaver brought up recent suggestions that the Fort Discovery space be used for a TEE center, to which Mr. White said it has inadequate ceiling height, impeding columns, no ballroom and no hotel attached.

Mr. Johnson said later that if the committee is going to be able to recommend a solution to the full commission, as it was formed to do, future meetings will have to look at other potential TEE center locations. Most everything that’s been put on the river has fallen short of expectations, he said, such as the golf gardens and Port Royal.

“Just because it’s there (on Reynolds) doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful,” he said.

Mr. Jackson said the meeting was worth his time if it helps re-start the conversation from the ground up.

“You gotta’ start somewhere,” he said.


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