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Deal on hotel fee in August 2007 tied TEE center to revitalization

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Backed by a feasibility study that said a trade, exhibit and event center would create jobs and provide an economic boost for downtown, the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau asked that $27 million be put into a sales tax package that went before voters in 2005. The committee in charge included $20 million.

The SPLOST 5 package, totaling $160 million, passed.

In 2007, attempts by Augusta commissioners to have the TEE center built adjacent to the existing convention center in the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites, and run by the same operator, Augusta Riverfront LLC, failed repeatedly in disagreements along racial lines.

In August 2007, Commissioners Don Grantham and Betty Beard broke the stalemate in a deal involving a new $1-a-night hotel fee, which would fund TEE center operations and pump $37.5 million into Laney-Walker and Bethlehem over 50 years. The idea was to use most of the $750,000 a year for bond payments, allowing millions to be raised up front. Ms. Beard gave white commissioners a sixth vote on the TEE center.

In 2008, TEE center architects balked at building it for $20 million, saying it would cost twice that. Commissioners instructed city Administrator Fred Russell to find a way to make up the difference, and he proposed that bonds be issued to build a $38 million TEE center and a $17 million parking deck, paid back by rerouting the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority's hotel/motel taxes and reimposing a car-rental tax.

The issue split the commission along racial lines again in May, with black commissioners saying the deal had become inequitable, that voters hadn't approved a $38 million facility or a parking deck. Ms. Beard said a recession was the wrong time to build a center at that price, contending that there was no guarantee it would be successful. Black commissioners expressed interest in moving the TEE center site, saying Augusta Riverfront -- which has ties to the ownership of The Augusta Chronicle -- wasn't being open with its financial records. White commissioners contended that without the TEE center, the hotel fee was illegal because it was created to fund tourism, meaning inner-city projects would cease. Black commissioners asserted that revitalizing black neighborhoods would spur tourism.

There was a vote in September to have Mayor Deke Copenhaver form a TEE center subcommittee in hopes of breaking the gridlock. That was briefly held up by the sheriff's office's investigation of David Fry, a retired attorney who allegedly offered Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason and Commissioner Corey Johnson lucrative posts with a parking deck operator if they would vote for the TEE center.

The matter was finally settled Dec. 1, when Matt Aitken won a runoff for the District 1 commission seat, guaranteeing a sixth TEE center vote, which was part of his platform.

In a special called meeting Monday, the commission voted 7-1-1 -- Mr. Mason opposed, Ms. Beard abstaining and Calvin Holland absent -- to float bonds to build a $38 million TEE center on Reynolds Street with a $10 million parking deck and to raise $8 million to jump-start Laney-Walker/Bethlehem revitalization. The vote also advanced $1 million to the inner-city initiative. Mr. Mason said he voted no because the deal had grown into more than $100 million in projects, far more than voters approved, and he felt another referendum was needed. Ms. Beard said she abstained because she still opposes a $38 million TEE center, but she didn't want to appear spiteful in opposing the revitalization bond.

The $1-a-night hotel fee is projected to raise at least $1.5 million a year as tourism picks up, and in his motion to pass the plan Mr. Grantham tweaked the spending formula.

The first $350,000 a year will still go toward TEE center operations ($128,000 in management and catering fees to Augusta Riverfront, the rest for operational expenses and a capital fund for future building expenses), and the next $750,000 will still go toward inner-city neighborhoods.

However, only the next $400,000 will go to Augusta Public Transit, and 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.

Comments (26) Add comment
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thewiz0oz
9
Points
thewiz0oz 12/13/09 - 05:17 am
0
0
Politics makes strange

Politics makes strange bed-fellows -- the first benefit from this long overdue approval vote is the commitment of the Hyatt Hotel Group to build a $25 million hotel -- private funds -- across Reynolds Street from the expanded Trade & Exhibit Center that is projected to create an additional $800,000 in new taxes coming into the City the first year -- provided the prestigious hotel group doesn't change its mind after waiting over two years for the Commission to implement the voters 2005 instructions -- Augusta has lost over $40 million in gross revenue due to the foot-draging of the Commission -- now we can move into the 21st century as a progressive host to the numerous groups that have bypassed us in the past due to our lack of convenient, interesting & scenic facilities.

justus4
101
Points
justus4 12/13/09 - 05:50 am
0
0
Any commisssioner associated
Unpublished

Any commisssioner associated with the building of infrastructure of the TEE should be investigated for a conflict. That means those involved with construction of any kind because their vote, in effect, meant they expected more business to come their way because of their vote. That is illegal. Now, the agency investigating the conflict must also be hand-picked because of historical prejudices toward particular sections of certain communities. Again, this is politics 101 and government 102 and the sad & poor minority community has proven that they missed both classes.

DAMY46
0
Points
DAMY46 12/13/09 - 07:14 am
0
0
Question:--Who owns the land

Question:--Who owns the land where the TEE center will be built?-----How long have they owned it?--- What did they pay for it?--- What will they sell it for?..............(follow the money)

johnrawllins
0
Points
johnrawllins 12/13/09 - 07:14 am
0
0
Both are pie in the sky

Both are pie in the sky wastes of money!

DAMY46
0
Points
DAMY46 12/13/09 - 07:27 am
0
0
The TEE center will never

The TEE center will never produce a profit....It will be a huge drain on the taxpayers.....Way to go Augusta.

JacquesUlar
0
Points
JacquesUlar 12/13/09 - 08:34 am
0
0
I sure hope there are enough

I sure hope there are enough crows to go around in a few years. I'd hate for any of y'all to miss out on supper.

Riverman1
83739
Points
Riverman1 12/13/09 - 09:38 am
0
0
In my personal research I

In my personal research I realized that the TEE proponents had not done their due diligence. The facts are trade shows are decreasing while centers are being built all over the country. The size of the building dictates what kind of shows will even consider coming and we will be a third tier center. Please read the work of Dr. Heywood Sanders of Texas A&M and Dr. Bill Fox of U. of Tenn. They both describe in detail the problems. Someone mentioned the Columbia Metro Convention Center is enlarging and that must be a good sign. It's actually a bad sign. Shows won't come to centers small as it is and they are realizing it. Their big mistake is they think by enlarging business will pick up. They are depending on local events like wedding receptions to keep it going. They had boxing yesterday with local fighters. That's only shifting the venue locally and not bringing in outside money. We already have the Bell. Folks, let's for once look at the facts and stop the personal attacks on those who oppose the venture.

Riverman1
83739
Points
Riverman1 12/13/09 - 09:42 am
0
0
For another insight, read

For another insight, read TradeShow Week and see how exhibitors have put demands on centers for lower prices as the number of centers has increased.

thewiz0oz
9
Points
thewiz0oz 12/13/09 - 11:28 am
0
0
Augusta is fortunate that the

Augusta is fortunate that the Hyatt Hotel Group apparently never read Dr. Sanders report on the top 100 Convention Cities --- or maybe they did & decided to focus on the more profitable 2nd tier cities like Augusta -- their $25 million investment across the street from where the TEE Center has been located for a number of years conveniences me that this is a good move for Augusta -- oh, that's right -- most folks think we are building a Tee Center -- surprise -- we already have one -- the current project is to expand the one we already have -- something about missing out on $1 million annually because our's was too small -- if there is to be an investigation into the landowners where the Tee Center expansion is to be made -- darn it -- the city will have to investigate itself--seems they already own it -- you ever wonder why some were trying to get it built elsewhere? Maybe investigate them.

corgimom
32251
Points
corgimom 12/13/09 - 12:37 pm
0
0
I guess all of us have failed

I guess all of us have failed to realize how jam-packed our highly utilized existing TEE center is. Yeppers, it's crammed with folks 365 days per year. Help us all out here. What was the last convention to come to Augusta, and when is the next one scheduled?

Riverman1
83739
Points
Riverman1 12/13/09 - 01:37 pm
0
0
Oz, the proposed hotel would

Oz, the proposed hotel would be foolish not to want a TEE there, but it doesn't make it right. Keep in mind the trade show people have strict requirements. We will be a THIRD TIER center due to the size of the building. Peter Nathan of Exhibicon International, a critic of Dr. Sanders said, "He is wrong about the major cities but right about the smaller cities. The third-tier destinations will have a tough time getting business to fill the facilities they've built." Folks, that's us. Even Dr. Sanders critics admit 2nd and 3rd tier convention centers will have a hard time. In a nutshell, the economy is bad, but cities everywhere are building TEE centers. The number of shows has not increased that much, yet the number of facilities have. ...Jim Bracken, chairman emeritus of VNU Expositions: "A lot of these centers, especially in second- and third-tier cities, need help getting attendance because there are too many of them," he notes.

Riverman1
83739
Points
Riverman1 12/13/09 - 01:44 pm
0
0
So why do centers get built?

So why do centers get built? Dr. Sanders Brookings Inst. paper says the impetus comes from those landowners around the center and others who will profit from the construction process affecting politicicans. He describes in detail what happens. It matches Augusta so well. By the way, he charges very little to make a personal visit. He told the city of Austin if they buy the ticket he would come.

Riverman1
83739
Points
Riverman1 12/13/09 - 01:48 pm
0
0
By the way, how big is our

By the way, how big is our center going to be? The industry descripitions are this... 3rd tier, are less than 100,000 sq ft. Mid sized are 100,000 to 500.000. 1st tier is over 500,000. 40 percent occupancy is considered adequate, but convention groups are often paid tens of thousands of dollars and given special deals to offset expenses.

Riverman1
83739
Points
Riverman1 12/13/09 - 01:50 pm
0
0
Again, friends, let's simply

Again, friends, let's simply look at the facts. Paraphrasing from Tradeshow Weekly. Since 2000, TEE centers have greatly outpaced demand, resulting in a market where more centers were competing for less business. The number of convention centers in North America went from 389 in 2000 to 458 in 2006. Currently, there are 85.1 million square feet of exhibit space in the U.S. and Canada, up from 82.3 million in 2005 and 65.5 million in 2000. There is another 7.6 million square feet in the pipeline, and by 2010, there will be 92.7 million square feet of exhibit space. Competition for visitors will remain stiff for years.

corgimom
32251
Points
corgimom 12/13/09 - 01:56 pm
0
0
The parking deck will provide

The parking deck will provide jobs, alright- for the criminals to rob and shoot people.

corgimom
32251
Points
corgimom 12/13/09 - 01:57 pm
0
0
And just think, when the

And just think, when the parking deck isn't full, it'll give the homeless a dry place to sleep. That's better than under the bridges.

corgimom
32251
Points
corgimom 12/13/09 - 01:58 pm
0
0
And the car thieves won't

And the car thieves won't have far to go, to dump the stripped vehicles in CTX. Good job, Augusta!

Riverman1
83739
Points
Riverman1 12/13/09 - 01:59 pm
0
0
Another thought. Ask the

Another thought. Ask the Atlanta company that did the orignal feasibilty study a few years ago if it still stands with the increased center building around the country that has occurred and the dramatic decrease in business. Is that a fair request?

Riverman1
83739
Points
Riverman1 12/13/09 - 02:17 pm
0
0
By the way, an innuendo was

By the way, an innuendo was thrown out above that some posters complaining may have ulterior motives in this process. I’ll be glad to share information with anyone that I don’t have financial interests in where the TEE is built. I, also, expect them to reveal if they have financial interests involved. I am a concerned citizen who makes it a hobby to point out things is all. You guys play Sudoku while I’m finding the truth and bringing it to everyone’s attention.

Brad Owens
4423
Points
Brad Owens 12/13/09 - 03:12 pm
0
0
RM!, they don't want to hear

RM!, they don't want to hear the truth. They want to talk about how great it is to be in downtown Augusta and they have very much over played their hand here. I can acecpt defeat in a political sense, but it doesn't make me happy to know that I will be paying for this (and YES, if the hotel fees don't meet the obligations on the bonds we WILL be paying for this) when all the many plies of bovine feces called projections. RM1 is right and it sounds like he has done basic research on it. facts are a funny thing huh RM1?

Yosemitesam
0
Points
Yosemitesam 12/13/09 - 03:25 pm
0
0
Another multi million dollar

Another multi million dollar asset for Billy Morris on the taxpayers dime. Corporate wellfare at it's ugliest. No one stands to make more money on this than his hotel/riverfront enterprises. I wish to heaven they had seen fit to find someone else to operate it. What's worse.....taxpayers have to pay them some 150 g's more more a year to run it.....guess where the majority of hotel rooms are going to be rented? Guess who's banquet facilites are going to be rented? This is just so wrong

Riverman1
83739
Points
Riverman1 12/13/09 - 03:26 pm
0
0
Brad, you know better than I

Brad, you know better than I how these things downtown have gone in the past. It's simply sickening that they won't look at the statistics and be honest about it. I'm sure some at the Chronicle see the truth now, but what can they do? It's the same with the Commission. They are trapped into it. We both know that. Brad, as you were the first to point out, it's really a HUNDRED MILLION DOLLAR gamble. Does anyone believe the Hyatt will help pay the bills if it doesn't pay for itself?

Brad Owens
4423
Points
Brad Owens 12/13/09 - 04:02 pm
0
0
That has been my point. we

That has been my point. we are willing to spend all that money on a MAYBE? I think 100milin infrastructure upgrades would do the county wonders at encoraging growth and job creation. I hope you are keeping notes on all the things they promise this place will do. Let me state, on the record, that the TEE will NEVER create the 600 long term jobs they claim it will. There is NO way they can claim that beyond the $1 a nite tax, that this will cost us nothing. It is a gamble, plain and simple. But if I gamble I like to try to save the high stakes bets for a sure thing, not a ten year old betting tip from the bookie. JMHO

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/14/09 - 04:13 pm
0
0
If you actually believe a

If you actually believe a Hyatt Hotel will be built then you are awfully naive. Where's the signed contract? When's the groundbreaking? the supposed hotel deal was a ploy by TEE folks to strongarm commissioners to approve the project. Watch it.. there will be no ground breaking on this hotel... there will be announcements that the project is delayed and months will turn into years until it is cancelled.. But then again there was never a plan to build a hotel in the first place.

lifelongresidient
0
Points
lifelongresidient 12/15/09 - 09:37 am
0
0
a "pox" on all you

a "pox" on all you naysayers....the "esteemed and knowledgeable" commissioner bowles sez it will work!!! you would think for him to obligate the taxpayers to 50-100 million dollars in debt it is based on sound marketing/demographic data....OK,OK enuff jokes for today...the citizenry(darn it joe, there's that word again) has been sold a bill of goods...first off on the ballot it indicated only 20 million dollars is needed to build the TEE CENTER, lo and behold the architects indicated theat 40 million dollars will be needed(this after the splost passed)...now add 17 million more for the parking deck, so how pray tell will this be paid for??? well to listen to joe, he sez it will be paid for by the "liquor tax" of which ther is already approx 5-7 million dollars already collected...this is a far cry from the 50-60 million needed to build the TEE CENTER, so now it's a bond issue which joe sez wont obligate future generations with debt, but we all know bonds normally mature in 20 years..., then throw in 8 million for laney-beth nbhds we are now up to over 60 million thawe the taxpayers are obligated for...but the way the out dated reasibility study and the head of the CVB say it

lifelongresidient
0
Points
lifelongresidient 12/15/09 - 09:44 am
0
0
will create over 600

will create over 600 jobs...gee if this TEE CENTER is going to be that successful then where are the private investors???

disssman
6
Points
disssman 12/15/09 - 10:36 am
0
0
I wonder how many folks

I wonder how many folks really understand that the CVB is a private entity, who are not responsible to the citizens of Augusta in any way. In other words we as taxpayers hve no say in their operations period. What a lot of people don't get is also that the current PARKING DECK we own on Reynolds will be torn down for the TEE project. I wonder what that cost us and when it was built under the guise that it was essential for future growth of the 12 block downtown area of our consolidated city.

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