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2 conventions canceled because of center dispute

Group cites inability of parties to agree

Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 3:17 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 1:45 AM
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The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police has canceled two conventions scheduled at the Augusta Con­vention Center because of city officials’ inability to agree on operating details.

Commissioner Bill Lockett (right) asked why the commission negotiating the details of the Augusta Convention Center contract when the city pays a lot of money for a legal staff charged with the task.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Commissioner Bill Lockett (right) asked why the commission negotiating the details of the Augusta Convention Center contract when the city pays a lot of money for a legal staff charged with the task.

Frank Rotondo, the exec­utive director of the association, said Monday his group had to proceed with plans for a winter conference and couldn’t wait for the Augus­ta Commission and a hotel operator to reach an agreement.
The group’s annual winter training conference was to be the first event held at the convention center, also known as the TEE Center, which is nearing completion.

“The reality is that after today’s meeting, we will seek another venue,” Rotondo said. “A lot of people are expressing remorse in the way the city officials as well as the hotel officials couldn’t reach their business agreements, but ultimately they have hurt mine.”

The chiefs association had booked the new convention center for events in 2013 and 2014. About 250 delegates, police chiefs and top law enforcement officials from across the state, in addition to exhibitors, were scheduled to attend the Jan. 27-30 training conference after the group decided to move it from the Omni in Atlanta to Augusta’s new venue, he said.
Rotondo said he was also concerned by the lack of communication from city and hotel officials about any issues, which he said he had instead been following through media reports.

“I mean no disrespect to city government, or the hotel, but life has to go on,” he said. “I have an obligation to my members.”

Barry White, the president of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that the cancellations were the only ones he knew about and that 12 other events remain planned during 2013.

“I understand their position,” White said. “(The chiefs association) is roughly three months from the convention and they had to make a decision. It’s unfortunate, and I think the effects will be greater than the losses of the 2013 and 2014 conferences.”

Mayor Deke Copenhaver warned last week that canceling conventions before the center opens will “stigmatize” Augusta and create the potential for “major, long-term losses” greater than the amounts the commission has been debating with Marriott operator Augusta Riverfront LLC. He repeated the concerns Monday.

Commissioners critical of the deal said concern about losing conventions was overblown.

“I would rather risk losing a convention or two than saddling the taxpayers of Augusta with a bad deal,” Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles said.

The “deal” is a set of operating documents that skeptical commissioners say overly benefits Augusta Riverfront LLC and offers too few protections for taxpayer money. Augusta Riverfront, which has run the downtown Marriott and conference center since the facilities opened, shares management with Morris Communications Co., the owner of The Augusta Chronicle. The proposed arrangement has the city paying the company a fee to run the center and cater its events, but also shouldering all losses, estimated at nearly $1 million next year.

“All that has been thrown on us in the last five weeks,” Bowles said.

Bowles said Monday his most pressing concern was the $1.4 million kitchen, which he said Augusta Riverfront, under the proposed agreements, could use to prepare food for hotel guests. The facilities are physically connected.

“My concern now is basically why did we buy $1.4 million in kitchen equipment for the Marriott?” he said.

Commissioner Bill Lockett, among the deal’s biggest critics, called the cancellations “a smokescreen” and argued that the association’s small group could easily have gone to another venue.

The commission deleted an agenda item Monday to approve the documents because six needed votes weren’t there, and planned a workshop Wednesday to go over them again.

At the meeting, Lockett and Commissioner Alvin Mason argued that it wasn’t the commission’s place to negotiate contracts, such as those convention center documents now before the body.

“Its place is to approve contracts,” Mason said.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham, who previously voted with Bowles and other commissioners to approve the documents, said City Administrator Fred Russell and special counsel Jim Plunkett had done the negotiating.

“It’s not that the contract has failed to have been negotiated,” Brigham said. “It’s failed to have been approved.”

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CobaltGeorge 10/30/12 - 08:34 am

Everyday I read all the Letters, Articles and comments on all the BS and corruption that is transpiring in the County of Richmond. It is almost like visualizing an area in the Middle East.

There is little I can do but extend my sadden heart feelings and deepest sympathy to all those that are being affected and screwed hoping that someone, somehow will give you justice and peace.

soapy_725 10/30/12 - 08:45 am
First time, shame on you......

second time through countless times, shame on me. It is obvious, if history means anything, that Richmond County taxpayers can be screwed anytime the county government and their handlers damn well please. Like some medieval story of the lord and his peasants.

All of these words have no meaning for there will be no action. Beating a dead horse doesn't even come close to the decades of Augusta history. They only provide "gut wrenching laughter" for the Augusta Mob. Take heart ARC taxpayers, The Ben Dover Circus is always in town. And after they repeatedly rape you, they tell everyone you enjoyed it.

Insider Information
Insider Information 10/30/12 - 09:20 am
Perfect Opportunity

This is the perfect opportunity for someone on the commission to step up and lead.

I know it won't happen, but imagine if a commissioner stated clearly and decisively: Enough!

And then publicly disclosed all of the backroom wheeling and dealing and truly fought for those who elected them.

bubbasauce 10/30/12 - 09:44 am
All these guys running

All these guys running Augusta act just like the politicians in D.C. Get rid of all these incompetent people running our city.

lovingthesouth72 10/30/12 - 10:23 am
sad sad sad .....

Disgusta - the place NOT to do business, because everything is so freaking backwards!

TigerJD 10/30/12 - 11:31 am
This city is so inept, I

This city is so inept, I cannot believe it. It seems like the city and many who live here are just adamantly opposed to progress and having a functional local government. I have never seen a city that has so much potential and so little possibility of ever reaching that potential.

Riverman1 10/30/12 - 12:33 pm
Who Really is ARLLC?

We might think we know....but do we? The city has entered into agreements with this entity involving millions of taxpayer dollars but since the bid process has been bypassed on all of this we don't know who the principals are or what portion of the company they own! They could be Al Qaeda for all we know. The city makes every other company reveal its ownership percentages...and also requires a financial statement and income statement. What kind of company are we placing our trust in....are they well capitalized? Seems like everything they have revealed so far has liens by the banks. Who exactly are we dealing with....other than seeing Paul Simon's signature as president what else do we know about the ARLLC? Who are the true owners and what percent do they own? If they take our money we at least need to know who we are really dealing with.

OpenCurtain 10/30/12 - 01:42 pm
One last note

It is 1 convention for 2 booked seasons.

of the 13 that we were suddenly made aware to help push along the TEE Center agreement signing or else. 12 are still on the books.

Besides IF the GA Chiefs of Police had book a winter meeting outside of Atlanta. It would have been the 1st time in Google-able amount number of years.

MarinerMan 10/30/12 - 03:43 pm
Just An Observation

It would appear that Augusta Richmond-County has several dysfuntional groups within it. Somehow we got smart and castrated the Coliseium (sp?) Authority and hired Global Spectrum to manage. I wonder if Global Spectrum has any experience in running a city? Maybe it is time to castrate the Augusta Commision, and let real professionals run the city. Our current crop of Commissioners, with the possible exception of a couple, continue to embarrass us. All the current contract does, is line the pockets of a select few, and shaft the taxpayers.

Riverman1 10/30/12 - 06:45 pm
Deke Upset

Deke is sulking. He said today in an email to Commissioners that he didn’t want to have a work session on the matter because that can make us look bad in statewide newspapers. He suggests Commissioners opposed work with the management company on their own.

Does he not understand that the whole question of what company to use is still open? Global Spectrum is offering to help. Why not give them the contract temporarily and if that works well, give it to them permanently? This is not a time for petulance and brooding.

SemperParatus 10/30/12 - 09:03 pm
Joe Bowles and Ken Echols

Joe, Augusta needs you to step up to the proverbial plate and become our next mayor. Deke has been quite a disappointment. And I totally agree with previous comments that we need to elect commissioners with backgrounds in business management. Putting Ken Echols in office to represent the 7th district would be a move in the right direction.

seenitB4 10/31/12 - 07:13 am

We need to reshuffle congress sense folks would help...doncha think...

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 10/31/12 - 09:09 am

Will Donnie Smith be next term's Matt Aitken?

Brad Owens
Brad Owens 10/31/12 - 02:18 pm
Augusta doesn't look stupid...

We look frugal and pretty smart for demanding the details be worked out before we sign this blank check.

We cannot afford this.

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