An $836,288 change order that would increase fire safety at the new Trade, Exhibit and Event Center to Marriott International standards failed to win support from an Augusta Commission committee Monday, despite information provided by officials involved in the construction project.
The change order, which failed to pass at last week’s regular commission meeting, now moves forward without recommendation to a later meeting, where, Commissioner Corey Johnson estimated, it probably will pass.
“We can’t stop the ball now,” Johnson said. “Where we are now is 70 percent complete on the building. ... Hopefully, in the future if anything does come up, they’ll let us know on the front end.”
The changes being requested include $399,083 for upgrades to the smoke exhaust system, increasing the number of air changes at the convention center from the Georgia minimum standard of about 2.5 per hour to eight per hour, as requested by Marriott.
Other changes in the order drafted in October are $260,403 for acoustic upgrades requested by Marriott, and other recommendations made by the city fire marshal and city’s building review committee, and $116,339 for revisions to the Harrison Building, additional storage rooms and power supply upgrades.
One issue that commissioners raised about the new convention center has been why none of them was informed of the requested changes until recently. On Monday, project manager Forrest White, of Heery International, said his firm has been aware of the changes for months but expected the city to negotiate out of having to implement them.
Paul Simon, the president of the firm that operates the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center under a franchise with Marriott International, implored all 10 commissioners “to vote in favor of this safety system.”
Simon’s firm, Augusta Riverfront LLC, has ties to the management of Morris Communications, the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle.
Simon said he had learned from conversations with Marriott officials that Marriott might be willing to negotiate heating and air conditioning standards, but not fire safety.
“If it’s an issue of safety, they won’t budge,” he said.
Simon added that the largest hotel chain in the world already brings more than $2 million to the Augusta economy annually when guests stay at the Marriott, and those numbers will likely increase when the adjacent convention center opens.
“We know we’ll be bringing a lot of people to town,” he said.
Architect Emory Leonard, of tvsdesign, said the change order “will improve the safety of the facility,” which is an assembly building, but offered no data supporting the changes, which Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles requested.
After the meeting, Bowles said he would likely support the change “if they can provide some information showing why the change is necessary.”
In other business, the commission’s Public Service Committee did not approve a lease amendment with The Patch in Augusta LLC that would allow the firm to use a $300,000 sales tax allocation approved by voters for the Augusta Municipal Golf Course.
Recreation, Parks and Facilities Director Tom Beck said the firm’s chairman, Brian Hendry, told him Monday that the firm would match the sales tax money “dollar for dollar” in making improvements at the course.
Hendry, of Aberdeen, Scotland, said earlier Monday that his firm hadn’t budgeted the sales tax line item into its plans for the course but that “if something comes in for the Patch, it’s a bonus.”
Beck said the sales tax allocation was mentioned in city bid documents that all had access to, but Commissioner J.R. Hatney took issue with the allocation approved by referendum going to a private firm.
“When folks voted for it, people didn’t have any idea you were going to give the golf course away,” Hatney said.
Also Monday, the Administrative Services Committee withdrew an agenda item involving the teen club Cloud Nine at the request of Licensing Director Rob Sherman. He said that the club was changing management and that its new license would come up for approval later.
The committee also took no action on a contract with Automatic Data Processing and instead scheduled a work session to discuss outsourcing city human resources functions to the firm.