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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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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 10/31/12 - 10:42 pm

This story is still getting significant comments. Yet, the editors took this story off the "Most Discussed" feature only to put the Peach Orchard Rd. Subway robbery at the top of the list. That, and it only has nine comments after a whole day. Something is wrong, wrong, wrong on the comments pages.

Sean Moores
Sean Moores 11/01/12 - 09:34 am
@Little Lamb

The "Most Discussed" tab is automatically tabulated. The editors do not manually control it.

HenryWalker3rd 11/01/12 - 11:25 am

"Tourists flock to beach areas. While we do have the lake it's not near enough to Augusta to impact the money spent downtown at all. A waterpark would be nice. I don't know many people that would come here for the 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...while they are all nice things they will probably only get visited by tourists in April."

Discussionstarter 11/04/12 - 10:45 am
Lack of leadership by Deke has caused this

Failure to read contracts worth multi-million dollars / failure to hear what Al Gray is saying / failure to bring in a 3rd party to look at the contracts; sorry Deke.... you are NOT a leader. And the icing on the cake is when Deke says he wants this discussion out of the media. No, Deke.... this discussion belongs in the media because the citizens who are having to fund this deserve to know what is happening as they get screwed. Please resign.

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