Officials continue to disagree on name for convention center

City and convention center officials have a running dispute over what to call the 38,000-square-foot riverfront exhibit hall under construction, and they don’t expect it to end anytime soon.

The dispute: Marriott International, which operates the downtown Marriott and conference center and will run the new building as an expansion of existing event facilities, calls it by one name; the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau uses another.

Two Web sites promote essentially the same thing by different names, with the bureau using $350,000 in hotel tax funding to promote what it calls the golf-themed Trade, Exhibit and Event Center – or TEE Center.

The CVB’s continued use of TEE Center chafes Marriott Vice President and General Manager Darryl Leech, who changed the name of the hotel last year to Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center and calls the building under construction “Augusta Convention Center.”

Leech said calling the building at 901 Reynolds St. by any name other than Augusta Convention Center makes no sense for a
convention facility whose customers are seeking a place to hold a convention, not play golf.

“Fifty-one weeks of the year, they’re here on business,” said Leech, who has run the complex for 20 years. “The goofiness of ‘TEE Center’ makes no sense to the people we’re talking to.”

The bureau, well aware of Leech’s demand, isn’t budging. In a recent presentation to the Downtown Develop­ment Authority, Peggy Siegler, the CVB’s vice president for marketing and sales, called her life “very TEE-centric,” and a sparkly new convention center brochure uses the name throughout.

Asked why the CVB uses the “TEE” name, CVB President and CEO Barry White initially pointed to the city of Augusta, saying in an e-mail that his organization did so “as directed by the city.”

According to Leech and City Administrator Fred Russell, however, “TEE” was coined by the CVB when it first pitched the idea for new exhibition space to the Augusta Commission and to voters, and it is the CVB that keeps it in use.

“I don’t remember us being insistent,” Russell said.

Reached late Friday, White acknowledged that the name was developed by the CVB and, with its subtle association to Augusta, the home of the Masters Tournament, connotes “aspirational mastery and striving.”

The reference, despite the center’s only slight connection to golf, “is extremely positive,” White said.

Moreover, the acronym – for Trade, Exhibit and Event – explains exactly what the new facility will be used for, he said.

“The entire complex qualifies as a convention center,” he said. “We’re marketing an exhibit hall.”

Though the building’s name might be important to the CVB and to Marriott, it doesn’t faze Russell, who joked about the names in light of other perceived controversies over change orders and other complex contractual issues surrounding the center’s construction and its parking deck.

“I think ‘large controversial building’ is appropriate,” Russell said. “Tempest in a TEE Center.”

On a more serious note, Russell said each group had tailored its marketing scheme for its target markets.

“The parties that run the facility are constrained by the rules that run the Marriott,” he said. “I think the CVB will attract a different audience.”

To CVB “champions,” locals who are asked to spread the word that Augusta will have a large convention center soon, the name isn’t significant.

Jacob Oglesby, the executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, found the convention center’s first convention booking – a September 2013 conference of the Georgia Association of Housing and Redevelopment Authorities. He said he simply told the association that Augusta now had more event space.

“I explained that we were building a new trade and exhibition center that will enable them to spread out,” Oglesby said.

Brenda Durant, the executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council, said she pitches the facility’s capacity and riverfront location, not the TEE name, which she called “an internal word.”

“You don’t stand up in the back of the room and say, ‘Augusta has a TEE Center,’ ” Durant said.

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