Marriott chief opposes sheriff's downtown crime district

The general manager of one of the largest properties within Sheriff Richard Roundtree’s proposed Continually Patrolled District says his company already does enough, and pays enough.

Roundtree’s proposal, to tax landowners within the boundaries of the former Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative an extra six mills to keep six additional law enforcement officers on the street, has seen mixed reviews among property owners in the district since he unveiled plan details last month.

Darryl Leech, the general manager of Augusta’s 22-year-old riverfront hotel and conference center – and starting last year, the new Augusta Convention Center and Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center – said Marriott works hard to ensure guests feel safe, and the 84,000 room nights they book each year indicate they do.

“These people wouldn’t continue to come here if they didn’t feel safe,” Leech said in a Wednesday interview.

Hotel owner Augusta Riverfront LLC shares management with Morris Communications Co., the owner of The Augusta Chronicle.

Leech said he could count on one hand the number of serious crimes that have taken place near the convention center over the past 22 years, despite the community uproar over the brutal May beating and robbery of an Edgefield, S.C., couple out for a late-night stroll on Riverwalk Augusta.

“We have a lot of customers that like jogging up and down the riverwalk,” Leech said. “People feel safe. They also know when to go.”

Marriott has about 60 closed-circuit security cameras around the premises, including 37 in the new Reynolds Street parking deck, he said. The convention center and hotel employ a security director, Bill Tolbert, whose staff monitors security and attempts to ward off troublemakers. Plus, Marriott is required by law to hire additional uniformed law enforcement and fire officials for large events, Leech said.

The convention center’s private security efforts cost more than $116,000 over the past year, and that’s sure to increase with what are now 26 events scheduled during 2013 at Olmstead Exhibit Hall, the 38,000-square-foot meeting space at Augusta Convention Center, Leech said. The events will inject some $8.5 million into the local economy, he said.

Plus, the hotel and convention complex, the “economic engine” for downtown, contributes significantly to the city’s general fund, which pays most law enforcement salaries, and other tax coffers already, Leech said. The property owners paid about $2.1 million in property, sales, payroll and hotel-motel taxes in 2011, and $2.3 million in 2012, he said.

According to tax records, hotel owner Augusta Riverfront LLC owns six taxable properties in the CADI tax district, which runs between Greene Street and the Savannah River from 13th to approximately Seventh streets. The company paid nearly $500,000 in property taxes on the six parcels, including about $70,000 – about one-fifth – of the $354,000 annual tax bill for CADI services last year, before the Augusta Commission’s decision to terminate the tax district.

“We create the economic impact. We already do our part. We don’t think we need to do any more,” Leech said.

Asked to respond, Roundtree said the new district is now targeting owners outside the former CADI boundaries, a change from what he’d previously told The Chronicle and from literature he distributed to some landowners.

The new district will now stretch east to the 400 blocks of Broad, Reynolds and Greene streets. The change will lessen the tax burden on individual property owners and provides the sheriff with about 600 owners, Roundtree said, from which to garner the 51 percent he needs to implement the district as required by Georgia law.

“Many business owners advised us that they would have supported the old CADI program if it had more of a security component and if the majority of the legitimate business owners participated,” Roundtree said in an e-mail. “So we took the old plan and attempted to make it better and fair to everyone. Therefore, this is something being offered not forced on the business owners.”

Roundtree said property owners will be issued packets of information about the proposal.

“When they receive their packet, they – and only they – can then decide if they like the proposal and want to participate or they can decide that they do not like it. It is their money, and it is their choice,” he said.

Sheriff's crime district to follow old CADI boundaries
Downtown Augusta property owners to weigh in on law enforcement plan
Sheriff proposes downtown safety plan, new tax to fund it
Downtown safety plan to be unveiled

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