Ending nine months of negotiations, the Augusta Commission on Monday approved a management deal with Augusta Riverfront LLC for parking facilities connected to the city’s new convention center.
At a called meeting, the commission voted 6-2 to approve the management agreements, which call for the city to pay Augusta Riverfront $25,000 a year to run the Reynolds Street parking deck. Commissioners Bill Lockett and J.R. Hatney were opposed, and Commissioners Grady Smith and Alvin Mason were absent.
Augusta Riverfront shares management with Morris Communications Co., the owner of The Augusta Chronicle.
The commission approved the agreements with a few additional stipulations requested by Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, including adding the city’s “right to audit all books” kept by Augusta Riverfront related to the deck and a prohibition against the firm’s marking up charges or adding profits, administrative charges or overhead to expenses for which the city will be billed, with costs not to exceed what Augusta Riverfront pays for them.
“My whole thing was making sure we were getting charged actual costs, with no markup,” Guilfoyle said.
The changes attempt to ensure that the city gets the best deal, but they don’t reflect many of the concerns raised by commissioners and community activists over the past nine months, including those that prompted the commission last year to vote to hire an external forensic auditor to examine the deals for criminal activity. The commission later voted against the audit, saying law enforcement could investigate any wrongdoing.
Last week, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles proposed that Augusta receive a larger share of profits and install an elevated crosswalk between the deck and the convention center as a compromise. Those details were said to be incorporated into Monday’s deal.
“It took a long time, but we’re glad we’ve got it,” said Darryl Leech, the vice president and general manager of the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, who attended Monday’s meeting with Augusta Riverfront President Paul Simon.
The firm owns the hotel and sought to have the Marriott brand on both the parking deck and the convention center, which is nearing completion.
Motorists are unlikely to notice any changes at the parking deck. Marriott has been operating it on a month-to-month agreement since it opened last year, Leech said.
Mason, who made suspicions over the parking deck the main topic of a May 14 rally on the steps of John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse, had not been present for a meeting since June 28, though he appeared after
the parking deck vote to lead a meeting of the Engineering Services committee.
Commissioner Corey Johnson, who voted in favor of the agreements, said after the vote that “the concept and the way the whole thing was done could have been better” but that the commission had “cleaned the thing up as much as possible.”
Lockett raised familiar questions about whether the deck land could legally be transferred to the Augusta Land Bank Authority if such a transfer were not covered by the group’s mission statement. General counsel Andrew MacKenzie said state law governing land bank authorities permitted such a transfer.
Hatney said he wanted proof that Wells Fargo had released a lien that exists on the land before the deal went through.
Jim Plunkett, who served as special city counsel over the deals, said all involved parties would exchange their legal papers at the same time.