Jim Plunkett, the outside counsel for the new Augusta Convention Center and parking deck project, said Wednesday that documents specifying Wells Fargo is prepared to release the lien on the deck land, freeing transfer of clear title to the land bank, are ready for Augusta Commission approval at an upcoming meeting.
Last year during discussions about who will run the garage, commissioners were surprised to learn that the city didn’t own the land on which the deck was built and faulted City Administrator Fred Russell for failing to inform them of the change.
Surprise turned to shock when commissioners learned that not only did the city not own the land but also that the land was partial collateral for its owner’s multimillion-dollar bank loan. In December, the commission authorized hiring a forensic auditor to scrutinize those and other details.
In February, the commission approved hiring Augusta Riverfront LLC to manage the deck, so long as land beneath it was free of liens and was transferred to the city-controlled Augusta Land Bank Authority.
Both Augusta Riverfront and landowner 933 Broad LLC have ties to management of Morris Communications Co., the owner of The Augusta Chronicle.
Under the agreements up for commission approval, Wells Fargo retains no security interest in the parking deck or land beneath, and it cannot foreclose on the parking deck property in the unlikely event the borrower defaulted, Plunkett said.
Wells Fargo did request that it retain one security interest in the deck, however.
“Wells asked for assignment of parking management rights,” Plunkett said. IIf the borrower defaults, the bank can step in and run the parking deck, subject to the city’s approval, he said.
Who will operate the deck has been a source of tension among commissioners. Its management was put out for bids before Augusta Riverfront’s assertion that Marriott – whose brand is on the downtown conference center and will soon be on the Augusta Convention Center, also known as the TEE center – needs to operate the deck. The current management agreement has the city paying $25,000 a year to Augusta Riverfront to run the deck.
With the parking deck land no longer subject to the debt, it can be safely transferred to Augusta Land Bank, Plunkett said. 933 Broad, which retains use of ground-floor spaces during business hours, agreed to the transfer earlier this year to dispel commissioner concerns.
Several commissioners said they had not seen the new documents, and Russell could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The land bank authority canceled all its June and July meetings, but Director Norman Michael said it would call one if need be to accept a transfer of property.