“Proof” demanded by an Augusta Commission member as recently as last week that Wells Fargo doesn’t have a claim to Augusta’s new parking deck has been recorded in Superior Court.
Two deeds – one transferring land under the deck to Augusta Land Bank Authority and the other releasing the city from liability if for-
mer owner 933 Broad LLC defaulted on a loan tied to the deck land – were presented to land bank officials Wednesday, said Jim Plunkett, the special city legal counsel for Augusta’s parking deck and convention center construction projects.
Despite the action, some commissioners still have concerns.
“The only thing that would satisfy me relative to the parking deck would be the completion of a forensic audit,” Commissioner Bill Lockett said. “I understand that the land bank did accept (the deck land), and I still have questions about that, too.”
Plunkett said, however, that there is nothing in the land bank’s establishing documents or in state law that prohibits it from becoming owner of the parking deck land.
Lockett and Commissioner Alvin Mason have questioned why a governing authority established primarily to bank unproductive properties would also serve as owner of real estate beneath a developed downtown parking deck.
Commissioner Jerry Brigham suggested the transfer in February as a way to quell his colleagues’ suspicions that 933 Broad, which has ties to management of the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle, had ulterior motives.
“I think for everybody that didn’t understand air rights, we now own the land under it, above it and everything else,” Brigham said. “I think that we’re now fully in control of the situation.”
Word that 933 Broad was donating air rights instead of land and in fact had borrowed money using the real estate as collateral caught commissioners by surprise when they learned of it nearly a year ago. The details hadn’t been presented by City Administrator Fred Russell until after the deck opened to the public.
The seven-month lag in transferring the property, which now removes it from tax rolls, was necessary because Wells Fargo wouldn’t release the lien until the commission approved operating documents for the deck, Plunkett said.
“It was a simultaneous exchange” of all parties’ interests Wednesday, he said.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who joined some of the other commissioners in questioning the complex arrangement and in examining the deal’s benefits to the city, said Thursday he was satisfied.
“People in Augusta were concerned about the land being donated,” he said. “(Mayor Pro Tem) Joe (Bowles) was able to attack the monetary part of it, and we came to an agreement on that.”
With the deck details now complete, the commission on Monday will start reviewing operating contracts and deeds associated with the convention center itself, which is nearing completion.
The documents, likely to again raise similar questions, grant operator Augusta Riverfront LLC, which shares management with Morris Communications Co., only fees and not profits to run the convention center, Plunkett said.
“It’s just a fee,” he said. “If it’s profitable, you get a profit. It’s its not profitable, that’s your expense.”
Known to the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau as the Trade, Event and Exhibit (or TEE) Center, the facility has about a dozen events booked for 2013.