Plans to build a pedestrian bridge across Reynolds Street connecting Augusta's new convention center to a parking deck remain on hold after a committee on Monday forwarded the matter to the Augusta Commission with no recommendation.
The bridge was part of a commission deal to approve a management agreement for the deck, but its funding – $891,561 to $991,561, depending on what is included – hit a snag last month when only five commissioners backed it and it fell one vote short.
City Administrator Fred Russell said he added the bridge to Monday's public services committee agenda because he was “looking for some direction” after taking the price to the commission in December for a pre-approved project “as we normally would do.”
Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said he wasn't certain about moving forward, and moved to refer the matter to the full commission without recommendation. The motion passed 3-0, with Johnson, Marion Williams and Wayne Guilfoyle voting in favor. Committee Chairman Grady Smith was absent because of illness.
"We haven't even really had a study to show how much of an impact (the center) will have to warrant building a pedestrian crosswalk,” Johnson said.
The bridge is part of an agreement with Augusta Riverfront LLC, the firm that runs the downtown Marriott, the convention center and its parking deck. Augusta Riverfront shares management with Morris Communications Co., the owner of The Augusta Chronicle.
Augusta Riverfront President Paul Simon, who attended the meeting, said he had agreed to the parking deal with a lesser fee because it included the crosswalk. When the parking deck is full, the bridge would ensure safe passage of about 650 carloads of convention guests, he said.
“It's all related to getting people across that street,” Simon said. “We think it's dangerous without the bridge.”
Simon said he also hoped the bridge would include a lighted marquee sign to advertise upcoming conventions.
“Hopefully, with the influx of people that come in, we'll need two decks,” said Williams, who led the meeting in Smith's absence. "I don't see that as being a need today."
Sales tax revenue is available for the project, and building the bridge now will avoid disrupting a construction management agreement for the complex, according to the agenda item.
Afterward, Simon said he was optimistic about the bridge going before the commission next week. If it is delayed, construction costs will surely rise, he said.
“I've had so many people tell me what a good thing this is,” he said.
On Monday, the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce announced plans for an official grand opening and ribbon-cutting Feb. 28 at the convention center, which it calls the TEE Center. The center lists 11 events booked for 2013.