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Mayor Deke Copenhaver tired of public fighting over convention center

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Negative publicity is driving the debate over management of the Augusta Con­vention Center behind closed doors.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he was calling off a work session today on the center’s management agreements after the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police’s decision Mon­day to cancel two conventions – including the facility’s first event Jan. 27-30 – made news across the Southeast.

“Basically, we are now in damage-control mode, and I would highly recommend that those parties who still have questions or concerns meet with the management group or their representatives directly,” Copenhaver said Tuesday in an e-mail to the Augusta Commission.

Frank Rotondo, the president of the police association, said Tuesday that the planning required to hold a law enforcement training conference – such as booking out-of-state speakers, selecting instructors and negotiating food prices – requires a management agreement be in
place. He gave the city a Mon­day deadline to approve one.
“A reasonable cut point was after yesterday’s meeting,” Rotondo said. “They can’t operate the facility without that management agreement.”

Though any commissioner who heads a committee can call for another work session, none did Tuesday.

Copenhaver, who warned last week of long-term damage to the city’s reputation over the canceled conventions, said in his e-mail that continuing to air disputes over the agreements “will only continue to bring negative regional media attention to Augusta while at the same time, further negatively impacting our ability to ensure the long-term success of the facility.”

Downtown business owners are upset about the canceled events and lost revenue, the mayor said.

Ben Casella, the president of the Down­town Augusta Alliance, called the situation “incredibly unfortunate” and “nothing short of embarrassing.”
“We see the (convention) center as huge for downtown,” Casella said. “We think that cities that have convention centers are looked at carefully, and those that don’t are overlooked.”

The Augusta Convention and Vis­itors Bureau estimated $8.4 million in direct visitor spending from the 12 events still scheduled at the facility during 2013.

The spending numbers do not impress critics, who point instead to estimated operating losses and proposed management agreements they contend will gut the city’s general fund with no commensurate benefits.

Commissioner Joe Jack­son, who voted previously with four other commissioners in favor of the management plan, said he had been contacted by constituents Tues­day who praised the commission for slowing the process.

“All I’m doing is trying to control how much we lose,” he said.

The commission OK’d build­ing the center next to the Marriott on property partly owned by Marriott operator Augusta Riverfront LLC in 2009. The company, which has operated the hotel for two decades, shares management with Morris Com­mu­ni­cations Co., the owner of The Augusta Chronicle.

The operating documents were presented to the commission just a few weeks ago. Simi­lar documents related to the convention center’s parking garage took the commission about six months to tweak and approve.

Commissioner Bill Lock­ett, one of the project’s biggest critics, hadn’t wavered Tuesday. He called the documents – which were prepared and reviewed by Augusta River­front officials, City Adminis­trator Fred Russell and city attorneys – “a blank check” that, in effect, left the commission responsible for negotiating the deal.

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F4therTime
4656
Points
F4therTime 10/31/12 - 08:57 am
4
3
Well Countyman..
Unpublished

All those things may be nice but not the first one will bring tourists in. Now that the ineptness of our city government (and I use that term very loosely) is getting press across the state for the TEE-Marriot-Morris-Simon convention fiasco, our reputation as a place to bring something better is even more sullied. Don't bother to tell me the stats on how many people voted for Deke the meek in ARC. They also voted for the TSPLOST which tells us all that either A) they have no reading comprehension B) They just don't care because they don't own property and have no idea how a tax system works or C) They don't remember the failed program of just say no and always say yes now to anything good or bad...

Little Lamb
49036
Points
Little Lamb 10/31/12 - 01:21 pm
5
1
Step One

There is a two-pronged action that can be put in place quickly:

A. Augusta Commission quits deliberating on Riverfront's proposal (aka, the deal).

B. Augusta Commission at its next regularly scheduled meeting authorizes the Coliseum Authority to be responsible for contacting any conventions who have a signed rental agreement and have paid a deposit to set up meetings or phone calls to find out what amenities the convention needs.

C. Coliseum Authority calculates the costs and the manpower needed to serve the conventiongoers and sends the cost projections to the City Administrator and the Commission on a convention by convention basis.

D. Each convention cost estimate gets reviewed and either approved or disapproved. If disapproved, the convention organizer is notified they cannot be accommodated and they get their deposit back. If approved, the cost projection is deposited in the Coliseum Authority's account.

E. Coliseum Authority (or its designated agent, e.g., Global Spectrum) initates purchases of materials and hiring of temporary personnel (we have some great temporary employement businesses here in Augusta) to serve the convention.

F. Coliseum Authority tells the convention organizer in the planning stages that they can use the Authority's designated agent to provide the food service, or the convention organizer can hire his own caterer to do the food apart from any other services that Coliseum Authority will provide.

NrthAugustaSam
504
Points
NrthAugustaSam 10/31/12 - 10:27 am
0
3
Disfunctional

The whole mess stinks of incompetence. Watch as Columbia COunty Evans park goes the same way.

Little Lamb
49036
Points
Little Lamb 10/31/12 - 10:35 am
4
0
Step Two

A. Augusta Commission asks co-operation of Aug-Rich Development Authority and the Convention & Tourism Bureau to gather together a group of volunteers from the community to form a committee of no more than seven persons to draw up a bid package for TEE Center management. The bid package would contain what services the committee feels is a reasonable agreement between convention organizer (renter) and Augusta (owner). Note: All members of the committee are to volunteer their time and travel. Any time and materials requested of Augusta city government employees (computer usage, stationery, postage, phone calls, etc.) will be borne by Augusta. A limited budget for consultant fees will be set up front by the Commission as a maximum amount.

B. Bid package will be submitted to procurement to have the standard boilerplate added.

C. Bid package will be reviewed by commission and either approved as is, approved as modified, or rejected. If approved, the bid package will go out for open bids under standard city procedures.

D. Lowest qualified bidder will be chosen. Term of agreement not to exceed five years. Either side can cancel the agreement upon demonstrating unsatisfactory performance or bad faith to an independent arbitrator.

linux
96
Points
linux 10/31/12 - 10:41 am
1
2
Dysfunctional

I'm new to the area and have been reading about this and watching news stories that don't say much, except that there's bickering about the convention center at the 11th hour. If this deal is destined to lose money every year no matter who runs the center, was that made public before the construction, or have there been overruns or what?

Sounds like the people responsible either did not perform their due diligence or the cost assumptions were too rosy, which is not untypical of a government when they want something built.

In any event, if it's destined to lose money, the only way to pay for it is to raise taxes, likely on business which will only serve to drive business away. My few walks through the downtown area show a small city in serious decline, in need of rejuvenation for sure; I don't think I'd venture down there after dark however.

So, what to do. It may be that this was just a bad idea and will never pencil out; if so, walk away, sell the facilities and parking garage to the highest bidder and cut the losses. I tend to agree that the Richmond County taxpayers are not going to be happy about paying for something that does not benefit them in the slightest.

F4therTime
4656
Points
F4therTime 10/31/12 - 12:27 pm
3
0
linux
Unpublished

The cost has doubled. The Mariott hotel decides what equipment is used even though they don't have one red cent in the TEE center. The parking garage that was built with tax payer funds is going to be run by a company that charges us to run it and we have to pay the salaries of the people they hire. Same for the TEE center. None of this was bidded out. Now we have a Mayor that wants a deal signed even if it is a horrible deal just so a few conventions won't be canceled. I don't know where you come from but it sure sounds fishy to me....

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 10/31/12 - 12:11 pm
3
0
Fishy?? I think it is
Unpublished

Fishy?? I think it is becoming crystal clear.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 10/31/12 - 12:53 pm
5
0
Little Lamb - your 2 step process

Is better than any solution I have seen so far.

It is Fair, it is honest, and it is in the open.

But it will never fly with DOWNTOWN, because the right people are not raking in the $$$$$.

puppydog
228
Points
puppydog 10/31/12 - 01:05 pm
0
5
And you wonder why Dr Azziz

And you wonder why Dr Azziz didn't want Augusta in the name of his university????

rebellious
21865
Points
rebellious 10/31/12 - 01:26 pm
4
1
LittleLamb

For Mayor, or City Administrator, or something........

Good recommendation, I just hope some of the voyuer Commissioners read it, print it, then place it on the agenda as a motion.

rebellious
21865
Points
rebellious 10/31/12 - 01:29 pm
5
1
Things Could Be worse...

We could've had Marion Willams and Betty Beard still on the commission. Man Oh Man, Betty would have catapulted another 50 million for Bethlehem, and Marion could have bought and sold another Church with these shell game going on.

Yep, every cloud has a silver lining and I think Ifound it.

countyman
21630
Points
countyman 10/31/12 - 01:35 pm
3
4
Move forward

All of the conversations should focus on the deal.. Anybody caught bringing up how this wasn't a good idea in the first place must exit the room.. The majority have already spoken(taxpayers), and the management deal is the final piece.

Puppydog.. Did you see the results from the GHSU study related to the word ' Augusta'? The local politics are much better than other cities in the US.

Linux... There's around five upscale restaurants underway, multiple housing developments, renovated Fort Discovery/Miller Theater, etc. Then you have major developments in the future like the GGHF site on the Riverwalk.

I'll repeat the construction at 901 Broad( 4k sq. ft. commercial space: 9 apts), and 444 Broad(Holiday Inn Express) are waiting on the TEE.. That's over $6 million pumped into the local economy.. Additional money for bridges, roads, public safety, and local schools.

The people that want the city to clean up specific areas. Where's the money coming from? Where's the money coming from the next year to repeat the process? All of the vibrant & successful cities I know have performing arts center, convention centers, etc bringing in new money.

Little Lamb
49036
Points
Little Lamb 10/31/12 - 01:35 pm
3
0
Yes

Thank you, OpenCurtain and Rebellious. I'm sure you noticed that Step One could be implemented almost immediately, and it could accommodate convention queries as they come in, on a case by case basis.

Step Two would be the long-term plan. However, if the Coliseum Authority and Global Spectrum do a good job, there might not be a need for Step Two.

countyman
21630
Points
countyman 10/31/12 - 01:49 pm
4
2
Facts

Augusta can easily compete against the other nearby metros in terms of shopping/dining. The tourist visiting the Masters sure do think the Surrey Center is upscale enough. Frog Hollow(on Broad street downtown) was recently mentioned in GQ magazine, and Five O'Clock Bistro in Midtown/Summerville is definitely upscale.

In the entire state of Georgia(9 million residents). Apple, Costco, PF Changs, Tin Drum Cafe, Chop House, Sephora, Pandora, etc only exist in metro Atlanta and West Augusta.

Both Columbus & Athens Georgia have convention centers.. Please tell me about the upscale shopping they have, or the multiple things to do compared to Augusta. It's the same failed argument about the reasons not to build a performing arts center. The city of Jackson, MS already has one up and running.

Things to do? Riverwalk, Augusta Common, Augusta Canal, boat rides, Phinizy Swamp, Morris Museum of Art, Historic Augusta trolley tour, Saturday Market, Candlelight Jazz Series on Sunday nights, Artist Row, Museum of history, etc.

Little Lamb
49036
Points
Little Lamb 10/31/12 - 01:47 pm
2
1
Rotondo don't know

From the story:

Frank Rotondo, the president of the police association, said Tuesday that the planning required to hold a law enforcement training conference . . . requires a management agreement be in place.

You can tell this Frank Rotondo isn't accustomed to thinking outside the box or creative problem solving. He just plods along through life, following his rule book, waiting on his police pension to kick in.

From the story:

Frank Rotondo . . . said Tuesday that the planning required to hold a law enforcement training conference – such as . . . negotiating food prices – requires a management agreement be in place.

This Rotondo fellow doesn't understand that under Paul Simon's proposed catering agreement, there will be no negotiating food prices. Simon and Riverfront LLC will be in total control of the cooking equipment, food quality, and food service. Simon is a take it or leave it kind of guy.

The commissioners should completely gut the food service part of this deal. Food should be an item that the convention organizer does on his own and not through Riverfront. Sure, it is possible that Riverfront could cater some events down there, if the convention organizer chooses Riverfront over the other very capable caterers around town.

Riverman1
93657
Points
Riverman1 10/31/12 - 02:51 pm
4
1
Athens and Columbus

"Both Columbus & Athens Georgia have convention centers.. Please tell me about the upscale shopping they have, or the multiple things to do compared to Augusta."

I mean Athens is nationally known for its downtown entertainment. Columbus State moved their resident students downtown and it's taken off like Athens. It's called a mini-Athens.

I sincerely hope Augusta is next by bringing resident students to ASU and MCG in the downtown area, but so far they haven't come near Athens or even Columbus.

Riverman1
93657
Points
Riverman1 10/31/12 - 03:14 pm
4
0
Heh, heh, heh

"Anybody caught bringing up how this wasn't a good idea in the first place must exit the room.."

Heh, heh, heh. If it were only that easy.

Riverman1
93657
Points
Riverman1 10/31/12 - 03:24 pm
3
0
Restoring the Bus to Ft. Gordon Would Help City

By the way, restoring the bus service from Ft. Gordon to downtown would help. Let's be honest here. What happens now is the soldiers are now taken by cabs to motels and entertainment on the I-20-Wash Rd complex.

countyman
21630
Points
countyman 10/31/12 - 03:30 pm
3
1
The visitor spending in

The visitor spending in Augusta is larger than Columbus and Athens. Many of the restaurants and stores coming to the Village at Riverwatch. They won't have locations outside of Atlanta and Augusta in the state for a while(i.e Costco).

I mean Savannah attracts more tourist than Augusta, but only has Whole Foods, March Jacobs, and Ruth's Chris.

Riverman1
93657
Points
Riverman1 10/31/12 - 04:59 pm
4
1
Augusta attracts true

Augusta attracts true tourists because of the Masters. Tourists going to Savannah are not looking for Whole Foods store. I know you won't get this.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 10/31/12 - 05:00 pm
2
0
Sheesh...

Comments are getting taken down from this story left and right.

Hmmm.....

I wonder why.

PhiloPublius
386
Points
PhiloPublius 10/31/12 - 05:04 pm
2
1
Commissioners Deflecting their lack of progress to Deake?

The point that people are missing is not that the commission is not signing a bad deal. It is that the Commission is not fighting to get a good deal in place. (IMO Not the Mayor's Job)

I feel like the mayor is doing his job. The commissioners seem to be the ones napping on this one.

I've read through the Mayor's responsibilities (From the Augusta.Gov page) and nowhere do I see. "Hold the commissioners hands while they attempt to do their jobs"

* Presiding at all meetings of the Commission
*Serving as the official head of Richmond County and the City of Augusta for the service of process and for ceremonial purposes
*Administering oaths and to take affidavits
*Signing all written contracts entered into by the Commission on behalf of Richmond County Georgia and the City of Augusta and other contracts and instruments executed by the county and city which by law are required to be in writing
*Ensuring that all laws, ordinances, and resolutions of Richmond County and the City of Augusta are faithfully executed
*Exercising such other powers and perform such other duties as may be required by ordinance or resolution of the Commission.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 10/31/12 - 05:14 pm
3
0
Speaking of deleted comments

Also seems part of my comment was deleted asking;

Why do we still have a Mayor's position, if we are a truly consolidated government?

Sean Moores
1061
Points
Sean Moores 10/31/12 - 05:14 pm
3
3
@insider

Three comments have been removed - all by me for three different reasons.

Riverman1
93657
Points
Riverman1 10/31/12 - 05:20 pm
2
0
Could we have the owners of

Could we have the owners of Augusta Riverfront, LLC listed? Plus their credit worthiness as is the practice of Richmond County government?

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 10/31/12 - 05:22 pm
1
0
The Mayor enjoys his beach

The Mayor enjoys his beach house so much. He should stay there.

Riverman1
93657
Points
Riverman1 10/31/12 - 05:25 pm
1
1
How do I flag a post by Sean

How do I flag a post by Sean Moores? Heh. I notice his posts don't have that option.

Gage Creed
19399
Points
Gage Creed 10/31/12 - 05:29 pm
1
1
They have a Bass Pro Shop in

They have a Bass Pro Shop in Savannah don't they?

Little Lamb
49036
Points
Little Lamb 10/31/12 - 08:44 pm
1
0
Carefully?

From the story:

Ben Casella, the president of the Down­town Augusta Alliance, . . . said. “We think that cities that have convention centers are looked at carefully, and those that don’t are overlooked.”

What in the world can he mean by "looked at carefully?"

SemperParatus
3225
Points
SemperParatus 10/31/12 - 09:06 pm
2
1
I'm tired, too...

...of Deke Copenhaver!

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