Commissioners ask questions about parking deck agreements

Thursday, July 12, 2012 8:23 PM
Last updated Friday, July 13, 2012 12:49 AM
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Ten months since two new Augusta Convention Center parking facilities opened, management agreements for both remain incomplete.

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Special City Council Jim Plunkett speaks during a meeting with City Commissioners discussing legal documents related to the Augusta Convention Center, or "TEE" Center as tabbed by the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Special City Council Jim Plunkett speaks during a meeting with City Commissioners discussing legal documents related to the Augusta Convention Center, or "TEE" Center as tabbed by the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham, who put the agreements on next week’s commission meeting agenda for approval, said after a two-hour work session on the documents Thursday, he did not think enough supporting commissioner votes were there, yet.

“I was hoping we could have gotten enough questions answered today,” Brigham said. “I don’t expect (the agreements) to be approved Tuesday.”

At the two-hour session, attorney Jim Plunkett, who is representing the city on the parking deck deals, and Paul Simon, president of Augusta Riverfront LLC, attempted to answer questions and assuage commissioner concerns about the agreements.

One of the agreements has the city paying Augusta Riverfront $25,000 a year plus expenses to run the new 650-space deck on Reynolds Street. The other has Augusta Riverfront paying the city $50,000 a year to control and operate an adjoining parking facility. Both will serve the convention center set to open next year, but only the Reynolds Street deck will be available for public parking.

“I want to be sure we were there to protect the taxpayers,” Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said after the meeting. “We also have to make sure the charges are compatible with the other (firms) who gave proposals.”

Plunkett agreed Thursday at the request of Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles to prepare a side-by-side comparison of the proposed management agreements with two bids obtained by the city last year from parking management firms.

“It seems to me that the parking deck is being run effectively,” Bowles said of the 10 months the facilities have operated on a month-to-month agreement. “I don’t see a rush to make a decision on Tuesday to get this passed.”

Simon said the parking facilities have made only $58,000 in those 10 months, but when the convention center opens, usage could increase.

He spoke to the benefits of having the convention center, which Augusta Riverfront will run under the Marriott brand. The firm has ties to management of Morris Communications Co., owner of The Augusta Chronicle.

“The center of downtown Augusta will change. It’s going to be on the corner of Ninth and Reynolds,” Simon said. “We’re excited about it and we just hope that you as a body get behind this and vote, not six but 10 in favor of it.”

Commissioner Bill Lockett said he too wants the best deal for the cash-strapped city.

“I want to make sure that the Marriott is successful, and I want to make sure that this city can get all the revenues that it can, so year after year after year, we don’t have to keep cutting, cutting, cutting,” he said.

Simon questioned the need for a forensic audit of the property transfers and other details with which Augusta Riverfront was involved. The commission voted last year to obtain a forensic audit but only this week determined where auditors should look.

“I was a CPA myself,” he said. “The documents are on the table.”

Simon also questioned online and other reports casting suspicion on the arrangements.

“You see all this stuff on these blogs; it’s just wrong,” he said.

Lori Davis, a District 1 commission candidate and regular contributor to the blog City Stink, which has probed the deals for months, was one of three commission candidates to attend the Thursday meeting. She said after the gathering that she hadn’t questioned Simon’s role in the dealmaking.

Both District 7 commission candidates – Donnie Smith and Kenny Echols – attended the meeting. Smith said afterward that cheaper means, such as a grand jury or Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe, exist to examine the dealmaking than hiring a forensic auditor.

“There’s no smoking gun,” said Smith, a Georgia State Patrol post commander. “We’d be spending money on something that might turn out to be nothing.”

He praised the meeting Thursday, however, as a good way to get the facts out in the open.

“Sometimes when there’s not a lot of evidence or a lot of communication going on, people assume things and stories grow themselves,” he said. “I think that’s the case in point here.”

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wondersnevercease
9218
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wondersnevercease 07/13/12 - 10:30 am
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If you really
Unpublished

If you really want to know whats going on and how TAXPAYERS feel about all of this and you want to comment with out censure......google is your friend.....................

David Parker
7923
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David Parker 07/13/12 - 10:31 am
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Paul Simon

“The center of downtown Augusta will change. It’s going to be on the corner of Ninth and Reynolds,”

This is quite a comment. I could see Fred Russell making a statement like this or a few others. But who decided that the center of town should be changed and where was it before we changed it just for the record. I've been to that block/intersection and it looks to me like alot of ignored property on both sides, then there's the TEE Center construction and a gravel parking lot. So yall decided to reposition the epicenter to appease the Marriot people? Hey if it's successful, it's a good thing. I'm not the expert and maybe it makes all the sense in the world to make a new "center of downtown". Heck, I may have already considered it such. But I question, how did those land/property owners on that block get so lucky to have the center of town brought to them. I mean there's a tattoo parlor and a couple of empty stores, maybe a thrift store. Usually, business and activity are what determines the center of town. Yall are coming up with this deal where you superimpose an idea to try and get it to grab hold and become a tangible. Why? Just answer that so I can support it or fight it, dependeth.

Conservative Man
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Conservative Man 07/13/12 - 02:25 pm
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Looks like Donnie Smith has

Looks like Donnie Smith has already formed an opinion without knowing fact before even being elected, scary for District 7. He should also know as a Ga State Patrolman that the GBI has been cut back drastically. As I say again, scary for a new Commission candidate. Forensic Audit is the only way to get to the bottom of this from an outside agency, however, most of the work has already been done by an outside media group.
As a conservative capitalist, I don't entirely blame Paul nor Billy. They are doing what a lot of businessmen do. Get the best deal for themselves that they can. Doesn't make it necessarily right but understandable.
But I DO blame people who have sworn an oath to look out for the best interests of the taxpayers. And the men (Fred, Deke, Commissioners) who voted to allow this crummy deal go forward should be ashamed of themselves...Sadly I fear they are not....

Shellman
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Shellman 07/13/12 - 01:48 pm
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Bad Deal
Unpublished

I can understand why Mr Simon wants to rush this deal through. Who can blame him? His company gets virtually all of the profits and Augusta is left with all of the risk and expenses. Can someone explain why Augusta outside counsel Jim Plunkett , City administrator Fred Russell, and certain commissioners like Jerry Brigham and Matt Aitken would think this deal was in the best interests of the taxpayers? Don't they supposedly work for the taxpayers? You'd never know it by the way they try to defend this lopsided contract, that was drawn up by Simon's own attorneys. What are we paying Jim PLunkett and in-house legal for?

Insider Information
4009
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Insider Information 07/13/12 - 06:19 pm
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"Management" company? What?

Why do we need someone to "manage" a parking deck?

What exactly does a "management" company do other than cash a check?

Riverman1
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Riverman1 07/13/12 - 10:20 pm
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InsiderInfo

We have to pay the Marriott to manage the parking deck we built for them so they can park their customer cars from the TEE Center that we also built for them and also provide parking for their employees on the first floor. What kind of rinky dink town would we be if we didn't build a TEE Center and parking garage for the Marriott and pay them to run both? Doesn't every town do that?

Craig Spinks
817
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Craig Spinks 07/14/12 - 12:47 am
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Who trusts...

Paul Simon?

Dixieman
14450
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Dixieman 07/14/12 - 07:26 am
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The center of town...

...is now in Evans.

Riverman1
82445
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Riverman1 07/14/12 - 09:12 am
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Dixieman, I agree. We have a

Dixieman, I agree. We have a new city center that's Evans and West Augusta. There is more money in that area and hotels than 10 downtown Augusta's. All that without a penny of the $100 million wasted on the TEE and Laney Walker pay-off.

Little Lamb
45378
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Little Lamb 07/14/12 - 09:15 am
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Good Post, Riverman

But you left out another group of folks parking in the new Reynolds Street Deck — regular Marriott guests when there is no convention going on. In fact, Paul Simon refers to the deck as the Marriott Hotel Parking Deck, though it was a gift to the Marriott from Augusta Taxpayers.

Riverman1
82445
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Riverman1 07/14/12 - 09:54 am
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LL, yeppers.

LL, yeppers.

Shellman
623
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Shellman 07/14/12 - 12:21 pm
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Donnie Smith
Unpublished

Well I live in District 7 and will NOT be voting for Donnie Smith. He sounds like another Jerry Brigham. If he doesn't think this warrants investigation then he does not deserve to be put in a position where he is supposed to guard taxpayer money.

Insider Information
4009
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Insider Information 07/14/12 - 02:26 pm
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Once a parking deck is built,

Once a parking deck is built, what is there to manage?

No city official, Paul Simon, not even countyman can explain what we get for our money.

So we pay money to a management company, and what do we get?

A bill.

Insider Information
4009
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Insider Information 07/14/12 - 02:28 pm
0
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By the way, if the Marriott

By the way, if the Marriott insists on calling it the Marriott Parking Deck, we need to charge Marriott out the wazoo for naming rights.

Perhaps, we can "donate" the naming rights to Marriott as soon as Riverfront LLC "donates" the land underneath the parking deck.

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