Hotelier balks at moving center

Developer Courtland Dusseau says he's not interested in building a Hyatt hotel downtown if James Brown Arena's exhibition hall becomes the trade, exhibit and event center site.

Taking the city's $20 million on hand and using it to renovate the arena was proposed by former Mayor Bob Young in a letter to the editor published Sunday in The Augusta Chronicle. The idea has since been gaining traction, and Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason says

it warrants serious consideration.

Mr. Dusseau, a managing partner for Alabama-based Legacy Hospitality, plans to build a $25 million Hyatt Place Hotel & Business Center on Reynolds Street near the current TEE center site. The Augusta Commission voted to put it there in 2007, but this year the board has split along racial lines over whether it should be funded for $38 million with a $12 million to $17 million parking deck, and how to balance it with a $37.5 million deal to fund revitalization of the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods.

The hotel is on hold now, Mr. Dusseau said, with he and property owners still hopeful the commission will reach a resolution.

The developer said his concept hinges on the TEE center being near the Savannah River, the existing convention center inside the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites and the Augusta Common, which the Hyatt would abut. Were the TEE center in James Brown Arena, conventioneers would have to be transported to and from their hotel rooms.

"It just doesn't make sense," Mr. Dusseau said. "It's not thinking of the guests."

He said the Augusta Common could be used as expanded event space. Out-of-towners would want to be near the shops, restaurants and bars on Broad Street, and James Brown Arena is just too out of the way , he said .

"They have the best site where it is," Mr. Dusseau said.

Mr. Young said where the TEE center goes should be decided by the community, not by a developer. The Reynolds Street site can't get six votes on the commission, he said , and he doesn't think that will change after the November elections.

"What I'm trying to do is advance the discussion of the TEE center," Mr. Young said. "When you're dealing with a political climate like we have here, you better have some options."

Convention attendees often move around by car , Mr. Young said, and James Brown Arena is within walking distance of the river. The arena area is poised for a comeback with the new judicial center going up on Walton Way. Trees could be planted to block the unsightly power substation nearby, and maybe a quiet zone could be established so trains don't blow their horns, he said.

Mr. Mason said the civic center's parking lots are big enough for both a hotel and a new deck. Another developer could be recruited, or perhaps Mr. Dusseau's mind could be changed if he were offered tax incentives and free land, he said.

"Everything's worth talking about ," Mr. Mason said.