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Expert says TEE Center study is flawed

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Before casting their votes on building a $38 million trade center, some Augusta commissioners wanted to hear from Haywood Sanders, a Harvard-educated public policy professor who contends that cities are recklessly plunging into such projects while demand for exhibit space is plummeting.

Dr. Sanders said he was eager to talk to them, too, and he had even gone over some information sent to him by the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau and convention center operator Augusta Riverfront LLC.

But that meeting never happened, even though the commission voted 9-1 in September to have City Administrator Fred Russell look into bringing the University of Texas-San Antonio professor to Augusta, whether in person, through a teleconference or in a conference call.

Dr. Sanders said that had something been set up, he would have told commissioners that the information he received, including the visitors bureau's seven-year-old feasibility study by Duluth, Ga.-based Strategic Advisory Group, is riddled with mistakes, outdated and "fundamentally incorrect."

The study concluded that an exposition center built adjacent to the Radisson Riverfront Hotel -- now Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites, which contains the existing convention center -- would have a $25 million-a-year economic impact and would create 630 jobs, both directly and indirectly, including construction work.

"If Augusta's going to go ahead and build a TEE center based on that study, I wish them well," Dr. Sanders said Monday, "but it's only going to produce a fraction of what they say it's going to do."

He said he could not cite specific flaws in the study because he didn't have it in front of him. On Tuesday he was wrapping up the semester and did not return phone calls.

With a $38 million TEE center having passed by a 7-1-1 vote Monday, along with a $10 million parking deck and $37.5 million in investment in the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem area over 50 years, Dr. Sanders' contentions are a moot point now as far as shaping debate.

He said he feels city officials never intended to bring him in, and they wasted his time.

"I find it a little curious," he said. "I think the mayor and Fred Russell have done a great job of not getting my input, which is their right to do."

Mr. Russell said there was no plot to keep him out. He said Dr. Sanders was scheduled to speak by phone at a Dec. 3 meeting, but it was canceled because Commissioner Corey Johnson had a death in the family.

However, Matt Aitken's runoff win two days earlier on Dec. 1 to claim the District 1 seat had already virtually guaranteed at least six votes for a Reynolds Street TEE center next year.

"I don't think (Dr. Sanders) would have changed anybody's mind, anyway," Mr. Russell said. "I don't see any sense to bring him in now."

The professor's name came up in September after visitors bureau president and CEO Barry White gave a presentation to commissioners urging them to support a TEE center.

Betty Beard, who made the deal with Don Grantham to fund inner-city projects using a $1-a-night hotel fee but later soured on building an exposition center during a recession, countered Mr. White by asking if he was familiar with Dr. Sanders' work. That morphed into a vote to try to bring him to Augusta.

A professor in the College of Public Policy, Dr. Sanders wrote a 2005 report for The Brookings Institution criticizing the "arms race" to build and expand trade centers. The report said overall attendance at the 200 largest trade show events languished at 1993 levels.

Dr. Sanders told The Chronicle that his findings still hold up and that, if anything, conditions have grown worse. Cities throughout the country are losing money on exhibition centers, he said, and are offering discounts and incentives that make competition even stiffer. And centers keep getting built because they hold out the hope of stimulating business for the hospitality industry and boosting downtown development for property owners, he said.

Before Monday's vote, Ms. Beard asked Mr. Russell what happened to the plan to bring in Dr. Sanders. He replied that he couldn't get him here, that he was supposed to speak Thursday, but the meeting was canceled.

The four subcommittee meetings that were held all featured pro-TEE center speakers -- Mr. White, inner-city revitalization consultant Jesse Wiles, Hyatt hotel developer Courtland Dusseau and debt management financial adviser Diane McNabb.

"I think it was a disservice to the citizens of Augusta," Ms. Beard said of omitting Dr. Sanders. "Frankly, I just wanted the truth. I wasn't trying to sabotage it as such. I just wanted to hear from all sides."

With the deal approved, now comes the reckoning, Ms. Beard said, but it's going to take years before Augusta finds out for sure whether the TEE center was oversold.

"It may be five or 10 years," she said. "It may be when we have to foot the bill."

Mr. White said Monday's vote only continues the work that started on the riverfront in the 1990s, which has been successful so far. He said if he wanted to, he could line up 50 experts to counter Dr. Sanders.

"We've had a tremendous year in the hospitality industry, in our hotels, compared to our competition," he said.

Augusta Riverfront LLC President Paul Simon said that to gauge the TEE center's future, one must look not at trade centers in large cities but at those in cities such as Columbia, which is expanding its facility.

"All I can tell you is that, from our perspective, we think it will bring a lot of people to town," Mr. Simon said.

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

2002 PREDICTION

In 2002, the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau commissioned a $50,000 study by Duluth, Ga.-based Strategic Advisory Group LLC to determine whether a new convention center should be built in Augusta. After considering six different spots from Belair Road to North Augusta, the study centered on the Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta -- now Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites, which contains the existing convention center -- as the preferred location for a trade, exhibit and event center.

The company' conclusions:

- The TEE center will have a $25 million per year economic impact.

- It will create 630 jobs, directly and indirectly, including construction work.

- It will generate $1.42 million in state and local taxes in its first year.

- It will operate at a $176,000 per year loss, but an increase in visitors would raise $515,000 more in additional hotel, mixed-drink and sales taxes.

- It will cost between $16.4 million and $20.2 million.

The study was last updated in 2004, still predicting a $25 million per year economic impact but raising the projected cost to $27 million.

Source: Augusta Chronicle archives; Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Barry White

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concernednative
28
Points
concernednative 12/09/09 - 04:22 am
0
0
I am no expert like Dr

I am no expert like Dr Sanders. But if TEE centers were a booming business private developers would be building them and running them. The fact that this project couldn't get off the ground without govt money and subsidies and back room deals (revitalization) says all you need to know. Mix in an alleged bribery scandal and Augusta gets what it deserves probably a waste of over $200 million tax dollars on TEE center and lw/beth revitalization when it is all looked back on 20 years from now. Think about what the city could do with the kind of money and it is mind boggling they are wasting it on these projects. Don't call Dr. Sanders pick up a phone call all cities areound the size of Augusta and see if you have a problem booking a convention center or hotels rooms. They will bend over backwards to get your business. In other words no demand and Augusta just go in a long line of idol TEE centers.

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 12/09/09 - 04:46 am
0
0
It is sure to be a lovely

It is sure to be a lovely place for those clever graffitti artists to decorate. When the TEE center is built and.... empty, be sure to stop by at Osbon Medical Systems on Broad St. to tell one of the biggest lobbyists for this boondoggle "thank you". Yup. Julian Osbon.

Jonas
0
Points
Jonas 12/09/09 - 05:00 am
0
0
It will create alot of

It will create alot of construction jobs for illegal immigrants. They need to put in the contracts that the companies will only hire legal residents. I am wondering who's cousin or golfing buddy will get the contract!!! Another waste of money by the city of Augusta!!!

johnston.cliff
2
Points
johnston.cliff 12/09/09 - 05:21 am
0
0
If one looks at our current

If one looks at our current president, the term "Harvard educated" loses a lot of appeal. Our country will begin an economic recovery immediately after removing the threat of huge tax increases and other economic shackles currently hanging over the head of ALL businesses. (the Brookings Institute has an anticapitalist agenda and wouldn't hire anyone who disagreed with them) The TEE center completion should coincide with the recovery. Save our country, save our city....remove the mad Marxist in 2012 and his lackeys in 2010.

JacquesUlar
0
Points
JacquesUlar 12/09/09 - 05:28 am
0
0
The money band-aid on the

The money band-aid on the spurting artery of the ghettos will only be a temporary glossing over of a core problem that funding alone can not solve. The TEE center and associated development offers the chance of a longer term improvement to the overall health of the downtown area. The TEE center MAY end up being a bust in the long run, but the money to improve ghetto housing for those who have historically demonstrated that they will not maintain it, and have no desire to change their habits, is a SURE waste of money and time. Give TEE a chance.

Riverman1
82428
Points
Riverman1 12/09/09 - 06:03 am
0
0
Now the $100 MILLION gamble

Now the $100 MILLION gamble really worries me. If I were going to bet the house on a stock, with negative information like we have here, I wouldn't be buying this one. Going ahead in the face of Dr. Sanders' warning is foolish. Like he said, if you go ahead basing it on what the Duluth company, "Good luck with that."

Riverman1
82428
Points
Riverman1 12/09/09 - 06:09 am
0
0
Mr. White says he can come up

Mr. White says he can come up with 50 experts to counter what Dr. Sanders said. Can he come up with just ONE from the Brookings Institute, the country's foremost thinktank?

JacquesUlar
0
Points
JacquesUlar 12/09/09 - 06:12 am
0
0
Rm1, c'mon dude. It's

Rm1, c'mon dude. It's done...give it a break and hope for the best like the rest of us.

JacquesUlar
0
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JacquesUlar 12/09/09 - 06:13 am
0
0
You already have hundreds of

You already have hundreds of "I told you so" posts to retrieve and refer to if the center tanks.

LEO
0
Points
LEO 12/09/09 - 06:17 am
0
0
If the commission is so gung

If the commission is so gung ho about encouraging riverfront development, then why won't they address the situation with the dilapidated Riverwalk? How about putting some of that money into repairs and hiring special duty deputies for security?

Riverman1
82428
Points
Riverman1 12/09/09 - 06:21 am
0
0
The problem is that those of

The problem is that those of us who are opposed to this huge, ill thought out, gamble will take no joy in its failure. Nor will the proponents say they're sorry. There will be no day of reckoning, but only a building that sits empty most of the time as we gradually realize it didn't work, yet have to continue to pay for it with taxes....not the predicted revenue. Fort Discovery should be used and if conferences start to come, THEN the decision to build a new TEE center can be made. Politics and self-interests aside, isn't this the rational decision to make at this time?

Riverman1
82428
Points
Riverman1 12/09/09 - 06:24 am
0
0
Leo makes a good point.

Leo makes a good point. Riverwalk is run down, dirty and not safe. It needs money. Jacques, I said last night on here that I gave up and wished them well. I offered ideas of ways to make the TEE work. This article today makes me think there is still hope the mistake won't be made so I'll repeat my views once more. The Chronicle brought this up, not me.

JacquesUlar
0
Points
JacquesUlar 12/09/09 - 06:26 am
0
0
Rm1, I feel your pain, bud. I

Rm1, I feel your pain, bud. I just try not to go crazy over things I/we can't change. For better or worse, it's time to get behind it in whatever way we can for the sake of the city.

Riverman1
82428
Points
Riverman1 12/09/09 - 06:33 am
0
0
Jacque, no one is going

Jacque, no one is going crazy, but we are offerring our thoughts. Apparently, the Chronicle wants to look at the matter once more, too, with this article. I don't partake of the optimism opium simply to go along. Let's look at FACTS. A Brookings Inst. study for goodness sakes. Optimistology has no place in local government spending because its track record is not good.

catfish201
0
Points
catfish201 12/09/09 - 06:58 am
0
0
I think the Tee center is

I think the Tee center is going to be an asset for Augusta and I am pleased the new commissioner voted in favor of moving forward with the project. I have attended numerous conventions in my lifetime and most were held in convention centers with hotels next door or across the street. Therefore, based on my past experience, the location is an excellent choice.

msgret92
121
Points
msgret92 12/09/09 - 07:13 am
0
0
Catfish, it was the old

Catfish, it was the old commissioner, the new one doesn't start until Janurary

thewiz0oz
9
Points
thewiz0oz 12/09/09 - 07:34 am
0
0
Interesting to note that Mr.

Interesting to note that Mr. Sanders couldn't be specific in his criticism of Augusta's expanded Trade & Exhibit Center -- he want to put us in the same box as New York, San Francisco & Atlanta -- I'm glad the Hyatt Hotel group doesn't take him seriously -- Hyatt is committing $25 million of its own money to build a new hotel close to our TEE Center -- ll Sanders is doing is hustling his book -- I for one go with the one investing in Augusta -- not the naysayers who expertise consists of mindless blather -- Augusta is a unique destination for tourists, convention groups and others interested in a combination of historical assets going back to the beginning of man, a great arts community, a beautiful riverfront site that is the epic-center of a dynamic trade area -- anyone interested in studying Augusta 101 -- might be a little enlightening to you.

thewiz0oz
9
Points
thewiz0oz 12/09/09 - 07:48 am
0
0
Interesting to note that Mr.

Interesting to note that Mr. Sanders couldn't be specific in his criticism of Augusta's expanded Trade & Exhibit Center -- he want to put us in the same box as New York, San Francisco & Atlanta -- I'm glad the Hyatt Hotel group doesn't take him seriously -- Hyatt is committing $25 million of its own money to build a new hotel close to our TEE Center -- all Sanders is doing is hustling his book -- I for one go with the one investing in Augusta -- not the naysayers whose expertise consists of mindless blather -- Augusta is a unique destination for tourists, convention groups and others interested in a combination of historical assets going back to the beginning of man, a great arts community, a beautiful riverfront site that is the epic-center of a dynamic trade area -- anyone interested in studying Augusta 101 -- might be a little enlightening to you.

Riverman1
82428
Points
Riverman1 12/09/09 - 07:51 am
0
0
Oz, DR. Sanders wrote a

Oz, DR. Sanders wrote a scientific paper for the Brookings Institute, not a book. In this article in the Chronicle he specifically questioned OUR proposed TEE Center. By the way, if you want to see mindless blather not based on facts, read today's editorial.

Riverman1
82428
Points
Riverman1 12/09/09 - 07:58 am
0
0
I swear Andy Cheek's Ellis

I swear Andy Cheek's Ellis St. canal would have been a better idea than the $110 million TEE. Heh, heh.

jg41160
6
Points
jg41160 12/09/09 - 08:12 am
0
0
I'll believe the Hyatt when I

I'll believe the Hyatt when I see it. Anyone remember Watermark?

austinevans
0
Points
austinevans 12/09/09 - 08:22 am
0
0
Why is it done ULar,. As far

Why is it done ULar,. As far as I know, no contracts have been lsigned and no shovel turned!

deekster
24
Points
deekster 12/09/09 - 08:32 am
0
0
Why are you sheeple so

Why are you sheeple so opposed to my building a "little kingdom" from which to launch my "national political career"? signed The Right Rev. Dr. Deekster

getalife
4
Points
getalife 12/09/09 - 08:52 am
0
0
Finally I agree with

Finally I agree with something Betty Beard said. I think it would have been worth the money and time to hear what Dr. Sanders has to say. This TEE controversy has been going on for a long time and now all of a sudden it passes the commission. It needs more outside input as those on the commission are both deaf and blind. I also think the money for the blighted neighborhoods is a waste. Until you can educate people on how to live and take care of property, it will all be in vain. Just another ghetto waiting to happen.

Brad Owens
4290
Points
Brad Owens 12/09/09 - 08:52 am
0
0
The TEE will be an asset for

The TEE will be an asset for some folks for sure, but as far as the 100's of millions of promised tax dollars it will generate is pure bovine feces. There is no way it can generate that kind of money, NO WAY. Ignore the facts and you set yourself up for making poor choices. Oh well, I guess we can look at Iraq and see what happens when you get a group of people who already have their minds made up before the facts are collected. They only want to see 'facts' that support their own opinion and will ignore anything that doesn't agree with their narrow self enriching view.

thewiz0oz
9
Points
thewiz0oz 12/09/09 - 08:53 am
0
0
The editorial was a good

The editorial was a good recap -- and yes, Sanders wrote a paper -- from which he receives well funded speaking engagements -- and please don't associate the Hyatt Hotel Group -- a multi-billion dollar organization with the developers of the Watermark -- a location passed on by a number of hotel groups -- and yes no shovel has turned any dirt yet for Hyatt -- maybe a 24 month delay by the Commission might have something to do with it -- it's true -- the property has not been closed on & the hotel could still back out -- wouldn't blame them because of the crap they've had to go through here -- but now funding for construction can restart & should be completed shortly -- maybe if we are lucky the Savannah River Site could choose the Augusta Common for long-term burial of nuclear waste -- would make a lot of people happy -- wonder who would say "I told you so" first.

bettyboop
7
Points
bettyboop 12/09/09 - 08:58 am
0
0
sorry bout that..just trying

sorry bout that..just trying to C&P a story from the living section...it does not work ...sigh

disssman
6
Points
disssman 12/09/09 - 09:04 am
0
0
Catfish just where is the

Catfish just where is the hotel capable of holding 3500 people? It sure isn't across the street. If you think the Hyatt being considered is that size, forget it. BTW I think we will probably put together a little lease agreement with the Hyatt for about half of our future parking garage, for their exclusive use at a cost well below what you and I would pay. The last time I looked at their plans they were woefully short parking spaces for guest and I didn't include all the people working there (hundreds by their estimate), In any event who needs this expert? We have the Billy and Deke duo to keep us informed.

halffull
0
Points
halffull 12/09/09 - 09:14 am
0
0
Grandma said it like this,

Grandma said it like this, "you can't stop'em when they are Hell-bent on doing it."

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