Augusta commissioners to study convention center's operating details

Augusta commissioners have a Wednesday work session planned to learn more about the legal documents governing Augusta Riverfront LLC’s operation of Augusta Convention Center, also known as the TEE Center.

The meeting, a 10 a.m. session in the commission chamber, is the body’s first opportunity to have questions answered about the documents they were handed last week by attorneys.

The legal documents the group is expected to review cover details such as the city’s annual operating deposit of $250,000 for center expenses, a $100,000 annual deposit for capital improvements and a $7,000 monthly fee for management, all to be paid Augusta Riverfront, which runs the nearby Marriott Conference Center and TEE parking deck and intends to run the new convention center.

Other details up for consideration Wednesday relate to a kitchen built to serve the conference center but will also, under a separate catering agreement, be used by Augusta Riverfront to prepare food for events at the convention center.

Augusta Riverfront shares management with Morris Communications Co., the owner of The Augusta Chronicle. The firm’s president, Paul Simon, will be on hand to answer questions, as will Jim Plunkett, an attorney retained by the city to draft and negotiate the contracts.

While all but four of the current panel were in office in 2009 when the commission approved construction of a convention center, several have questioned the final details found in the documents.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, who last week wondered why Marriott was signed up to cater the conventions, said Tuesday his questions involved “some details about cost sharing that I’d like to clear up, and that’s pretty much it.”

Commissioner Matt Aitken, who represents the downtown district and is facing a re-election battle, reiterated support for the project.

“I definitely want to see us on board unanimously to support it,” Aitken said. “The Marriott has done a lot of positive things. They were here when no one else was, years ago.”

Aitken said if issues arose, the city could always “revisit the contract” after getting it approved in time for the venue’s first convention, a January event for Georgia police chiefs.

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said he was still reading the documents and would likely have more questions Wednesday.

One of the deal’s biggest skeptics on the commission, Bill Lockett, said he had a doctor’s appointment scheduled months ago and couldn’t make the work session.

Lockett maintained his suspicions Tuesday, however, advocating the commission put management of the convention center out for bids to see if costs compare and “give us something to bargain with” in negotiations with Augusta Riverfront.

“When something is presented to us, it should have been researched already and be the best possible agreement, not the best offer,” Lockett said. “This is what we have been offered, and we have been given the opportunity to either accept the offer or not.”

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Topic page: TEE Center

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