Bowles calls parking deck agreement unfair to taxpayers

Fresh calculations presented Tuesday by Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles appeared to show Augusta getting the shorter end of parking management agreements with Augusta Riverfront LLC.

The agreements, the latest hurdle in many months of debate associated with the new downtown convention center set to open next year and two adjacent parking facilities, place an undue burden of the decks’ expenses on taxpayers, Bowles said, although they split revenues more evenly.

“It looks like they want to be partners in the revenue, but not partners in the expenditures,” Bowles said.

The firm, which operates the Marriott and was authorized by the commission in 2009 to run the parking decks and convention center, has close ties with the management of Morris Communications Co., owner of The Augusta Chronicle.

Showing scribbled calculations on an overhead projector from what he said was about two weeks’ effort, Bowles, a CPA, said at Tuesday’s commission meeting that the management agreements make Augusta Riverfront more money than they do the city.

“It was obvious when I looked at the numbers that Augusta Riverfront would have walked away with $50,000 and the taxpayers of Augusta would have walked away with $16,000,” Bowles said.

The complicated agreements have Augusta paying Augusta Riverfront $25,000 plus expenses to operate the new brick parking deck on Reynolds Street, but with Augusta Riverfront simultaneously paying the city $50,000 annually to rent a reconfigured deck connected to the existing Marriott conference center.

“The way that they backed out the $50,000 rent payment as revenue that Augusta Riverfront had to pay out, yet deducted it from the income they earned, it was quite misleading,” Bowles said.

The agreements had the approval of Augusta’s law department, Russell and Augusta Riverfront before they were presented to the commission.

Before the meeting, City Administrator Fred Russell said he’d likely advise Augusta Riverfront President Paul Simon that commission support for the agreements was not there, and Simon canceled a speaking appearance before the commission.

“I didn’t think it was even going to be discussed,” Simon said from his home Tuesday night.

He said that he thought Bowles’ assertions were probably incorrect but that he wanted to hear them firsthand.

Commissioner Corey Johnson said the agreements were “too complex for us to really dissect the control aspects,” and Commissioner J.R. Hatney said they were “just convoluted.” Commissioner Bill Lockett asked why the work had been put out for bids last year if they were to be discarded.

“A contract should be a compromise where both sides come and meet in the middle,” Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said.

The commission, minus absent member Alvin Mason, approved Bowles’ presentation as information and the parking facilities will remain on month-to-month agreements until parties agree on a plan at a future work session.

Simon said he plans to attend the work session to hear and address Bowles’ concerns.

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