Augusta Commission member questions convention center catering

 

Though he won’t actually read the contracts governing operations at the Augusta Convention Center until after he completes the Ironman triathlon Sunday, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles said Friday he already has questions about the documents.

Among them, Bowles questioned why one is a separate contract for the Augusta Riverfront LLC staff to cater events at the convention center.

“It completely changes the arrangement,” Bowles said, arguing that the convention center could bid out concessions the way the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority does for James Brown Arena.

The city’s new 38,000-square-foot convention center is nearing completion and has 13 events scheduled for 2013.

Paul Simon, the president of Augusta Riverfront LLC, said the Augusta Commission agreed to most of the details of the convention center in 2007 and 2009, while a few points, including a shorter, 15-year term, were modified at the advice of the city’s Atlanta bond counsel.

The company was named throughout the commission discussions as the intended operator of the complex.

Augusta Riverfront shares management with Morris Communications Co., the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle.

“They agreed to this a long time ago,” Simon said. “All we get out of it is the fee.”

The city pays the company to run the convention center, he said.

Simon added that the management fee was less than half what the coliseum authority pays Global Spectrum to run James Brown Arena and Bell Auditorium.

The company gave up some of its land and interrupted operations at the Marriott Conference Center for the city to build an adjoining convention center, Simon said, and in return it got a new kitchen to be shared between the conference and convention centers and the right to manage the entire complex, he said.

Speaking to the commission Monday, Simon said he’d like to see the documents approved by mid-October so the firm can begin hiring and training staffers before the convention center’s first event, a January police chiefs convention.

If the details come as a surprise to the commission now, they shouldn’t, he said.

“It’s not my job” to explain them, Simon said. “It’s staff’s.” But, he added, “I’m willing to do it.”

Rather than discuss the documents with Simon and Jim Plunkett, the special city counsel for the deals, when commissioners were provided them Monday, the group voted to schedule a later work session. That is tentatively set for Wednesday, according to Commissioner Jerry Brigham.

Brigham said Friday he hadn’t finished reading the documents either but didn’t think Augusta Riverfront needed three months to prepare for the first convention.

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Topic Page: Augusta Convention Center
TEE Center Management Agreement (PDF) - With Highlights
TEE Center Management Agreement (PDF) - No Highlights

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