Columbia County Commissioners on Wednesday “mutually agreed” to part ways with Evans on Ice, LLC, whose owners notified them Monday that they were moving their holiday-related event to Augusta.
In its news release Wednesday, the county announced a new event that will run through the month of December.
“While Columbia County is disappointed to see Evans on Ice relocate to Augusta Common, the county’s Community Events department is pleased to announce a plan to begin new holiday traditions in Columbia County,” the release stated.
At its meeting Tuesday, commissioners decided against dissolving a contract with the group, the same day Augusta-Richmond County Commissioners agreed to hold the event downtown after waiving rent and fees of approximately $50,000 and provide support services at cost. Augusta on Ice will run 50 days from Nov. 17 to Jan. 6.
Board members said Tuesday they wanted to end the arrangement with the group without penalty since no money had been exchanged with the group, which requested the contract be terminated. But members want more time to request refund opportunities for sponsors and the more than 100 season passes already purchased for the event intended for Evans.
“I don’t have any ill feelings about it,” Chairman Ron Cross told board members. “I do think we have an obligation to the people that bought tickets or bought sponsorships from Columbia County, expecting the event to be in Columbia County and now to get their money’s worth, they’re going to have to go to Richmond County.”
Augusta on Ice released a statement Wednesday stating that refunds would be made available to sponsors and those who purchased tickets for the Evans event.
“It was made clear to the county that any previous ticket holders or sponsors that did not wish to participate would be offered full refunds,” the release states. “It is the hope of Augusta On Ice that both business partners and patrons alike see the value in bringing families together over the holidays and will take part in this enchanting festival.”
Cross said members of the Evans on Ice, LLC group arranged a meeting with him Friday and presented a “suggested termination letter,” saying the county could not accommodate it, which Cross said was untrue. A second letter was drafted with similar wording, but added additional verbiage that would free the county of any penalties if the contract was terminated. Cross refused to the sign the letter without the board’s approval.
Cross presented the letters to the board Tuesday and explained in detail several areas of “misunderstanding” around alcohol sale ordinances, paid admittance to the skating ring area, alterations to the park, and an undisclosed surcharge on vendors not agreed upon in the initial contract from June.
”I think there has been a bit of confusion about the 51-day alcohol sales,” Cross said. “I think Columbia County has a 3-day temporary alcohol permit and I believe the state has a 10-day temporary alcohol permit. We said we would follow the county ordinance, which was probably not to their liking.”
Cross said the group also wanted to fence off the ice skating rink portion of the park and charge $5 for admittance.
“They brought forth that they would like to rather than having it open to the public during the holiday season, to put a fence around their portion of the event and charge a $5 admission fee, whereas we were under the impression that it would be free to anybody to walk through, but if they chose to ride something or use the ice skating rink they had to pay for those events,” Cross said.
In addition, the county’s original contract with the group stated the county would split profits 50/50 from vendor concessions.
“We found out that they had gone to a lot of the vendors and requested a 15 percent surcharge that would go to them directly,” Cross said.
The group had also begun talks with a grading company, Cross said, to provide a true flat surface, which was also not initially discussed. Cross said without grading, the county was looking at as much as $10,000 to fix the damage the ice rink would cause over a 50-day period, which they were prepared to cover.
After the meeting Friday, Cross said the group asked for time to discuss and by Monday, he said he learned about the venue change.
“The lady did call me (Monday) and said they had miraculously found a new venue,” Cross said. “I thought they would be here (Tuesday) and try to seal the deal, but I understand Richmond County has already approved it without any details, so they are kind of doing what we did too.”
Ultimately Cross did express concern that they believed the event would be put on by a professional service, as seen in other cities.
“A couple of our members had the impression this was an experienced group, the same group that does the one in Greenville,” Cross said. “This is not the case. This is a young couple, very nice people, I believe one from Seattle, and one from Chicago, that wound up here because they have family at Savannah Lakes, thought this would be a good thing to put on.”
County administrator Scott Johnson said county staff had already gotten to work on bringing a new event to Evans Towne Center Park to replace Evans on Ice.
“Our vision is to have a very family friendly event run through the month of December that’s free to our citizens that will be something that everybody will be very proud of and is something that has never been done before at Evans Towne Center Park,” Johnson said. “So we will be working very hard in the coming days to do that so we can have that nice Christmas event at our park.”
The new event will include a walk through light display, a holiday movie series with the opportunity to have free family photos, Saturdays with Santa and cookies with Mrs. Claus, a holiday market, Toys for Tots drop-off and the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Dec. , which will also include fireworks this year.
“Columbia County sends well wishes to Augusta on Ice and looks forward to seeing everyone at Evans Towne Center Park this holiday season,” the release stated.