The Augusta Commission approved an $836,288 change order for the downtown Trade, Exhibit and Event Center but rejected a $300,000 sales tax allocation for the city-owned golf course, with one commissioner saying the course money was needed more at the leaky community center where he voted on Super Tuesday.
Brian Hendry, a principal for the private firm that took on management of the Augusta Municipal Golf Course in January, traveled from Scotland to make a pitch Tuesday for the course and its receiving the tax money, which he said he only learned about after signing a contract with the city.
“I have to fight for the golf course; I have to fight for the members,” Hendry said, adding that he has booked clients during Masters Week that have already covered most annual expenses there.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who joined Commissioners Alvin Mason, Bill Lockett and Corey Johnson in voting against allowing Hendry to use the money for improvements, said he had visited another recreation facility earlier Tuesday to vote in the presidential primary, and the building leaked badly.
Mason complimented Hendry for coming to ask for the money but said the city had already “hoodwinked the community” regarding sales tax money and where it is spent.
“No matter how much we invest, we’re only going to get $1,000 a month back,” Mason said of the rent Hendry pays to lease the public course.
Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles mentioned that sales tax money has been designated to other private entities such as Symphony Orchestra Augusta and Paine College.
Commissioner Jerry Brigham said voters had approved the money for the course so that’s where it should go, instead of being reallocated to some other use.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who might have broken a tie had Commissioner J.R. Hatney not been absent Tuesday, remarked that as “the golf capital of the world,” Augusta ought to look at “making strategic investments” when it comes to recreation.
Lockett said it was “very insulting” to learn that Recreation Director Tom Beck had informed Hendry about the availability of the sales tax money.
The TEE Center change order passed 7-2, with Mason and Lockett opposed, after failing 4-5-1 on Feb. 21.
Bowles said the city's project manager, Heery International, had recently provided the commission a list of eight convention centers in the region that had the higher fire safety standards requested in the change order, including one facility owned by the city of Macon.
“I don’t think Marriott’s going above and beyond state minimum standards just for the heck of it,” Bowles said.
The change has been a popular talking point for weeks for several commissioners who questioned its necessity, while other city officials said they had tried to negotiate out of the higher standards demanded by Marriott International but were unsuccessful.
Johnson said he just wanted to be kept informed of obstacles along the way, not after the fact.
Lockett continued to question the entire project.
“You haven’t heard the last word on the TEE Center,” Lockett said after the meeting. “It is so messed up.”
Paul Simon, the head of the firm under contract with the city to run the convention center, attributed the change order’s delay in passing to information not being provided to the commission in a timely manner.
He did not expect the change to slow the TEE Center’s completion late this year.
Simon’s firm, Augusta Riverfront LLC, shares management with Morris Communications, the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle.