Ga. Methodists will meet in Athens in 2013, -14

 ATHENS, Ga. -- Classic Center officials breathed a sigh of relief Friday afternoon after members of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to return to Athens in 2013 and 2014.

The Methodist group, which brings about 3,000 people to Athens for the multiday meeting, has held the annual event at the Classic Center 12 out of the past 13 years and already had planned to return next year. Poor service the one year the conference met in Augusta has kept the annual meeting from returning to east central Georgia.

Conference members vote every two years on where they will hold their annual conference, which provides an economic boost during a traditionally slow time of year in Athens. Convention attendees each contribute about $200 a day in direct spending, said Chuck Jones, director of the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Methodist conference, however, had outgrown the Classic Center's existing space and was going to have to find another location if the complex wasn't expanded.

Athens-Clarke voters last November approved spending $25 million in sales tax revenue to expand the Classic Center to accommodate large conventions like the Methodists.

Construction on the expansion could begin as soon as August, but work will be suspended next June when the Methodists return for their 2012 conference, Classic Center officials said.

Methodist Conference attendees voted late Friday afternoon on the recommendation by its host committee to return to Athens in 2013 and 2014, said Maureen Baker, Classic Center sales director.

"We were all pretty busy working, but anxiously awaiting the vote, and were really, really pleased with the outcome," Baker said. "We appreciate the confidence they have placed in us by extending (the conference) to Athens two more years."

Conference attendees provided "rave reviews" of Athens restaurants and hotels, a big key in keeping the conference here, Baker said.

"It's all of Athens, not just the Classic Center that brings them back," she said.

2002 Methodist meeting an Augusta disaster

AUGUSTA -- When the four-day Methodist conference took place in Augusta earlier in the decade, it brought in 2,500 delegates and had an estimated economic impact of $2.5 million.

In June 2002, delegates arrived at Civic Center - since renamed the James Brown Arena - to find meeting rooms and coliseum space filthy and littered with trash. The group also complained of rude catering staff, late meals and bathrooms being dirty and sometimes non-functional. Conference volunteers had to help serve food and beverages.

Later that month the Coliseum Authority voted 6-4 to fire General Manager Reggie Williams over the debacle and to refund the Methodists the balance of a $54,000 civic center bill.

However, Methodist officials said they had lost confidence in the civic center's leadership and opted to move to Athens. The conference has been held there ever since.

-- Augusta Chronicle archives

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