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Deal is reached on TEE center

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Though it was expected to happen Monday, when word came that the Augusta Commission had finally approved a deal to build a downtown trade, exhibit and event center, it was still a "pinch me" moment for many of the business owners who stand to benefit, according to Cotton Patch owner Bryan Mitchell.

Bryan Mitchell, owner of the Cotton Patch restaurant and The City Club event facility on Broad Street.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Bryan Mitchell, owner of the Cotton Patch restaurant and The City Club event facility on Broad Street.

"I'm a happy, happy, happy, happy camper," he said.

Mr. Mitchell said the restaurant in a historic building near the Savannah River levee saw about a 20 percent growth in business after the opening of the convention center in the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites -- then Radisson Riverfront Hotel -- in the early 1990s. He's expecting at least that from the TEE center two blocks away and the new Hyatt hotel one block away, first from construction workers and then from conventioneers.

"It's just a matter of numbers," he said. "If they're bringing in thousands of people to events, certainly 100 are going to end up in our restaurant."

Monday's vote broke a gridlock that had the Augusta Commission split along racial lines and at times seemed unbreakable over the past seven months. The plan, which includes an effort to generate nearly $100 million in economic development to rebuild blighted inner-city neighborhoods, passed 7-1-1, with Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason voting no, Betty Beard abstaining and Calvin Holland absent.

The vote came six days after the election of Matt Aitken to the District 1 seat, which assured at least six votes for the TEE center had it not been approved before his first meeting, on Jan. 5. However, the TEE center subcommittee leader, Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who was out of town Monday, had said he hoped to have the matter resolved by the Dec. 15 meeting.

Though changes have been made since the impasse began in early May, the main components of City Administrator Fred Russell's first proposal remained intact.

The TEE center will be built for $38 million -- the price black commissioners balked at initially -- and an $8 million bond will be issued to jump-start projects in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem communities.

Because a lack of money has ground the revitalization projects to a halt, $1 million will be taken from the general fund and put into the initiative for the short term, then paid back with bond proceeds.

The TEE center will be built at the previously agreed-on site on Reynolds Street, attached to the existing convention center and operated by the same company, Augusta Riverfront LLC, another source of disagreement in the negotiations. The company has ties to the ownership of The Augusta Chronicle.

A 400-space parking deck will be built across the street for $10 million, with Augusta Riverfront donating most of the necessary land. Mr. Russell's first proposal had the deck priced at $17 million, which was yet another sticking point for black commissioners, who said voters approved no such thing when they passed a penny sales tax package that included the center.

Something commissioners on both sides of the aisle had disliked initially made its way back in. An Urban Redevelopment Authority will issue the inner-city bonds.

A bond attorney advised them Monday that this was the most efficient, cost-effective method of raising the money. The Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority will issue $19 million in bonds for the TEE center.

The motion to approve was made by Don Grantham and seconded by J.R. Hatney.

In his motion, Mr. Grantham tweaked the formula for spending proceeds of a $1-a-night bed fee. The first $350,000 will go toward TEE center operations; the next $750,000 will go toward the inner-city neighborhoods; and the next $400,000 will go to Augusta Public Transit.

Any collections over $1.5 million a year will be split -- 60 percent to expand the bus system and 40 percent for a special fund for revitalizing neighborhoods throughout the city.

Mr. Hatney said after the meeting that he still believes taxpayers would have been better served had the TEE center been built within the James Brown Arena and operated by management company Global Spectrum. He said he went along with Monday's "painful compromise" because he feared if the issue waited until next year, after Mr. Aitken joins the board and whites have a 6-4 majority, the inner-city projects could be taken out of the package.

"There are a lot of folks sitting up there on the commission who could really care less," he said, declining to name names.

Commissioner Joe Bowles said he takes offense to such suspicions.

"I would have thought after the District 1 race," he said, "that some people would have learned that it's time to get rid of the race-baiting."

Mr. Hatney said he believes scrutiny of the deal has made it better for Laney-Walker and Bethlehem. For example, he said, Mr. Russell's first proposal had $9 million in taxable and tax-exempt bonds issued for the inner city, but commissioners learned that under that plan there would have been restrictions on how the money could be used.

"Today, all the $8 million can go toward the Laney-Walker project, no doubt about it," he said. "I believe in my heart that this was the best time, and we got the best information we've had."

Mr. Mason said he cast a no vote because he still holds the same objection he had from the beginning -- a vote to approve $20 million for an exposition center in the 2005 sales tax referendum has ballooned to more than $100 million in projects. With all the deals cut and changes made, he said, he believes the TEE center needed to go back before voters.

He said he also still has reservations because of an alleged attempted bribery involving retired attorney David Fry, who's charged with trying to persuade Mr. Mason and Corey Johnson to change their votes on the TEE center by offering them lucrative posts in a parking deck management company.

"I'm not upset or anything like that," he said. "The democratic process worked. There's no reason to beat a dead horse into the ground. We've got to move forward."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

SEE THE PLAN

Click here to view a PDF diagram of the proposed TEE Center and its location in downtown Augusta.

WHAT IS THE TEE CENTER?

Unlike the existing convention center inside the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites, the new trade, exhibit and event center will have far more open space, allowing it to accommodate conventions showcasing products being sold - such as vehicles, industrial equipment and computers.

THE SIZE

The facility will have 40,000 square feet of exhibit-hall space, which could hold 195 10-by-10-foot booths, seat 3,500 people as a theater or feed 1,800 as a banquet hall. The building design also includes a ballroom, a kitchen, a loading dock and storage space.

THE MONEY

How the TEE center will be funded:

- $20 million from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 5

- $5 million in excess sales tax collections

- $1.5 million from judicial center cost savings

- $2.5 million from sales tax interest earnings

- $9 million from tax exempt bonds*

* The bond will total $19 million, the remainder of which will pay for a $10 million parking deck.

Total expected in direct construction spending: $110.5 million

THE NEXT STEP

A construction manager must be chosen, a post which has been put out to bid. Next, the land-acquisition process will begin. Ground will likely be broken in the spring. With design and construction expected to take two years, the center could open in 2012.

WHERE MONEY IS GOING

TOTAL EXPECTED IN DIRECT CONSTRUCTION SPENDING: $110.5 MILLION

- $37.5 million for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem projects (The Laney-Walker and Bethlehem Neighborhood Action plan is expected to generate nearly $100 million in economic development for those neighborhoods, most of it from the private sector)

- $38 million for the TEE center

- $10 million for a parking deck

- $25 million for a privately developed Hyatt hotel near Augusta Common

HOW THE TEE CENTER BOND WILL BE REPAID

- $1 million a year in hotel/motel taxes rerouted from the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority

- $425,000 a year from a car rental franchise fee

HOW $750,000 A YEAR FOR LANEY-WALKER AND BETHLEHEM, GENERATED BY THE $1-A-NIGHT HOTEL FEE, WILL BE USED

- $550,000 to make payments on $8 million in taxable bonds

- $200,000 for pay-as-you-go projects, essentially money on hand

Sources: Administrator Fred Russell; Augusta Riverfront LLC President Paul Simon; Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Barry White; Augusta Finance Department; TEE architectural firm tvsdesign

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

"It's going to be awesome. A new hotel with 139 rooms. The visitor dollars spent are going to be phenomenal. We're thrilled. ... This will kind of put us on the map when retailers are looking for new locations." -- Margaret Woodard, the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority

"I think it's a great thing for downtown. ... Just like any investment downtown, it's good for everyone who is a stakeholder down there." -- Bryan Haltermann, downtown property owner

"As long as it brings economic prosperity and new convention business to Augusta, it would be a great benefit to the whole city. Let's hope that everybody gets to share in the growth potential. ... Any time a convention comes to town, it always helps us because people go shopping on Broad Street." -- Jeff Gorelick, the owner of Ruben's Department Store and Ramada Hotel & Convention Center

"Anything that will bring business downtown, we're all for." -- Pam Clifton, the owner of Beamie's at the River

"I'm sure the election didn't hurt it, but I think we would have gotten it anyway. I've always thought we'd get it." -- Paul Simon, the president of Augusta Riverfront LLC

"As a taxpayer, I'm tickled we're going to get something going downtown. It's going to be a special addition, I think, in multiple ways to the city." -- Brad Usry, the owner of Fat Man's Riverfront Cafe and a member of the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority

"I firmly believe that it's an exciting day for downtown. The approval ... has the potential of bringing an incredible amount of business for downtown local restaurants and retailers. I do feel that what you'll see is the ancillary businesses that are needed to support the kind of activities that a trade and exhibit hall will bring into Augusta. More businesses will open up, and more restaurants will come in. It will create an even more vital downtown district than what we have today." -- Lara Plocha, the president of the Downtown Augusta Alliance

"It took a long time, but we got it done. It's a terrific day for the community. It's designed to have nothing but a positive impact for both the hotel business in our community and for the convention trade business, which will bring an enormous amount of economic impact." -- Darryl Leech, the vice president and general manager of Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites

"I've always thought it was going to happen. It's a big project for this community. That's like $110 million in stimulus funds. It doesn't cost you, as a resident, anything." -- Barry White, the president and CEO of Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau

-- Compiled by LaTina Emerson and Johnny Edwards, staff writers

Comments (164) Add comment
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thewiz0oz
9
Points
thewiz0oz 12/08/09 - 04:17 am
0
0
Interesting in the change in

Interesting in the change in the dynamics of the Commission with the 6-4 mix coming in January -- as predicted the current black Commissioners finally got religion -- they still care less about the economic future of Greater Augusta but they grabbed all the goodies they could get prior to being forced to comply with the wish of the voters -- voters in district 1 accomplished in one day -- December 1st -- what no other group could accomplish in 15 years -- congratulations to all residents of the C.S.R.A. and to Matt Aiken who will prove himself as being a leader for all of Augusta and not just the greedy few -- while the future now looks much better than it did a month ago there are still many challenges to address -- please Augusta, focus on GREEN & forget about black & white.

Just My Opinion
5633
Points
Just My Opinion 12/08/09 - 05:41 am
0
0
Yeah, I gotta agree. I think

Yeah, I gotta agree. I think the reason this was passed now is because the black commissioners saw the handwriting on the wall and wanted to pass the biggest thing for Augusta that's come along in a great while, BEFORE the "new white guy" brought it in with him! They wanted to have everyone remember "See? See what WE did for Augusta??". Interesting tactic for the future, I must say.

Ga Values
27
Points
Ga Values 12/08/09 - 07:44 am
0
0
Looks like the taxpayer just

Looks like the taxpayer just got stiffed by Billy Morris..

belle
307
Points
belle 12/08/09 - 07:55 am
0
0
Timing is everything and I am
Unpublished

Timing is everything and I am afraid the timing of this event will cause it to be a constant source of irritation in the community for a long time. It would have looked better if they could have waited a little longer after the election. Now people will question the validity of the candidates and their elections and we will STILL have people complaining about the "Good 'ole boy" syndrome we have suffered through for decades.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/08/09 - 08:02 am
0
0
belle.. it's amazing what a

belle.. it's amazing what a little money can buy in Augusta.

austinevans
0
Points
austinevans 12/08/09 - 08:02 am
0
0
I believe the laney and

I believe the laney and bethlehem projicts will somehow be cnxed after the new year. If not, they should be--a total waste of taxpayer money and blackmail to boot!

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/08/09 - 08:07 am
0
0
why should they be nixed?

why should they be nixed? Wasn't that al part of the so-called deal Mr Dandy Don hatched out? We could have nixed the whole mess if the voters had the opportunity to vote on this behemoth again. I have never understood how a $20 million SPLOST project got turned into $110 million in government spending. Butch Palmer thought the whole thing should have been put back before voters, but unless you have the backing of big money in Augusta, then its hard to win.

austinevans
0
Points
austinevans 12/08/09 - 08:25 am
0
0
Emery it's called blackmail!

Emery it's called blackmail! Have you ever seen a revitilization effort that 10 years later didn't look like a getto/slum? Laney/bethlehme is nothing more than a kickback, blackmail scheme and will only benefit a few, the beards, walkers and their ilk!

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 12/08/09 - 08:27 am
0
0
Huh. First post I can

Huh. First post I can remember where Julian Osbon aka theWiz0oz isn't insulting anyone who differs on the TEE Center.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/08/09 - 08:41 am
0
0
Frankly a whole lot of

Frankly a whole lot of parties have their hands in the cookie jar over the TEE center... so much so they were willing to bribe to get it. That's why it should have been nixed alltogether. Belle is right, the timing of this certainly validates the suspicions many in the city have had all along. How many other backrooms deals and bribes you think there was over this TEE Center that we will never find out about? But then in Augusta, this is ythe way business gets done. All of it is a waste of money.. unless \your hands are the ones getting greased.

austinevans
0
Points
austinevans 12/08/09 - 08:41 am
0
0
Emry, was the revitilization

Emry, was the revitilization project voted on by the taxpayers??? Where is this money coming from? Can someone enlighten me? Joe Bowles, can you?

disssman
6
Points
disssman 12/08/09 - 08:47 am
0
0
OK so we are building a 3500

OK so we are building a 3500 person facility with a 400 person parking deck? I looked at the 2005 referendum and it was for 20 Mil not 38 and it did not contain a parking deck. We were assured by Deke that there was more than adequate parking downtown to accomidate it and a baseball stadium. So what has changed that we now need a deck, Deke?

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/08/09 - 08:49 am
0
0
The operational subsidy to

The operational subsidy to Morris was also not authorized by voters.. the only thing voters authorized was $20 million in SPLOST funds... which now has been turned into a $39 million center plus a $10 million parking deck plus a $350,000 per year operational subsidy to Morris owned Augusta Riverfront, LLC.. and the $750K per year for 50 years for Laney/Bethelehem revitalization. It is disengenous for these politicians to say they are abiding by the wishes of the voters. This thing has morphed into a monster.. and it was Don Grantham that put the so-called deal together to secure the vote to award the operations contract for Morris. they could have hired a different management firm but giving it to Morris has ended up costing an additional $37.5 million

justus4
101
Points
justus4 12/08/09 - 08:50 am
0
0
Hopefully it (the TEE) will
Unpublished

Hopefully it (the TEE) will fail.

ispy4u
0
Points
ispy4u 12/08/09 - 08:55 am
0
0
The ink was not dry before

The ink was not dry before you idiots brought race into this. Had they voted against it, you all would have said something negative too. Damned if they do, damned if they don't. You all could careless if they agreed or not. It will always be about race for some of you.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/08/09 - 08:55 am
0
0
hasn't just about everything

hasn't just about everything else they have wasted our tax money on down there failed? Golf Hall of Fame? Fort Discovery?

Little Lamb
46022
Points
Little Lamb 12/08/09 - 08:57 am
0
0
The TEE Center will have "far

The TEE Center will have "far more open space," they say above. Yes, a big building that will sit empty 98% of the time.

ispy4u
0
Points
ispy4u 12/08/09 - 08:59 am
0
0
New name, same attitude.

New name, same attitude. Right Austinevans?

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/08/09 - 09:00 am
0
0
Deke's Ballpark made more

Deke's Ballpark made more economic sense then this thing.. atleast it would have been busier more of the time and would be something that people in the community would actually use.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/08/09 - 09:01 am
0
0
We can soon call this "The

We can soon call this "The Field of Unfulfilled Dreams"

ispy4u
0
Points
ispy4u 12/08/09 - 09:02 am
0
0
How can it be both ways. "

How can it be both ways. " They saw the writing on the wall" and " They Blackmailed them". With what? There is a 6-4 membership as far as race. One thing that is good, now you will not be able to legitimately use race when things go bad down there.

RIPAmerica
0
Points
RIPAmerica 12/08/09 - 09:04 am
0
0
"What they are saying"

"What they are saying" portion of this article omitted the voices of the blacks. "I gotz minez!"

austinevans
0
Points
austinevans 12/08/09 - 09:05 am
0
0
ispy, appears your last

ispy, appears your last sentence is referring to yourself re your 7:55! Truth hurt you gal?

austinevans
0
Points
austinevans 12/08/09 - 09:07 am
0
0
ispy, same name, same

ispy, same name, same ignorant, racebaiter, buffoon!

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/08/09 - 09:09 am
0
0
ispy.. I agree with you

ispy.. I agree with you there.. I thought the race issue was more of a canard by the pro-TEE folks. Both sides have played the race card. Why was Grantham so furious at Bowles over his compromise with Corey Johnson over naming the courtroom for Ruffin? I think it was because he wanted to be able to use that as some kind of leverege to hold over certain black commissioners to change their vote on TEE, and Bowles compromise took that off the table for him. It was as obvious as day. But his racial power play only was peripherally mentioned.

lifelongresidient
0
Points
lifelongresidient 12/08/09 - 09:14 am
0
0
hey everyone, the esteemed

hey everyone, the esteemed commissioner joe bowles said the future generations will not be saddled with debt from the tee center...well joe if that is the case then i guess we all will be alive for the next 50 years to pay@350000 per year to have the TEE CENTER managed. oh by the way joe, if future generations aren't going to pay for some/all of the TEE CENTER then why have a bond issue??? arent' bond issue terms usually for 20 or more years????..congrats to you mr. morris in 4-5 years after the TEE CENTER gets built (with government money), and shown to be a flop, you will then be able to come in and purchase the TEE CENTER and parking deck for next to nothing and the citizenry(darn it joe, there's that word again) will be on the hook for the 8million dollar bond issue for laney walker and the 19 million dollar bond issue for the TEE CENTER AND PARKING DECK

Riverman1
84011
Points
Riverman1 12/08/09 - 09:16 am
0
0
Sometimes a little slip

Sometimes a little slip explains how things are. Johnny Edwards said, "Something commissioners on both sides of the aisle had disliked initially made its way back in." The expression "both sides of the aisle" refers to Democrats and Republicans, not to blacks and whites sitting up there interspersed. But it's absolutely true, everything comes down to a racial conflict on the Commission.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/08/09 - 09:21 am
0
0
The best way to have handled

The best way to have handled this would have been to put it back before the voters with these new dollar amounts.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/08/09 - 09:24 am
0
0
Augusta.... you've just been

Augusta.... you've just been punked.

Riverman1
84011
Points
Riverman1 12/08/09 - 09:26 am
0
0
Lifelongresident, I agree,

Lifelongresident, I agree, but you left out the $750,000 a year for FIFTY YEARS to Laney-Walker. As I have said, I believe a TEE Center could work in Augusta since I often go to conferences/conventions in cities all over the country, but what worries me now is the economy. Commerical real estate now has a 17% vacancy and hotels all over the country can't make their payments due to decreased business. We should use Fort Discovery and see how things go.

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