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Augusta Commission reaches management agreement on convention center

Augusta Riverfront will run venue

Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012 7:48 PM
Last updated Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 8:37 PM
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The Au­gusta Commission voted 6-3 on Thursday to approve a revised management agreement with Marriott operator Au­gusta Riverfront LLC to run the new Augusta Con­ven­tion Center, ending a monthlong stalemate that led the venue’s first convention to cancel.

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Long-jumper George Kitchens, a graduate of Glenn Hills High School, laughs as he is recognized by the Augusta Commission for his accomplishments, including being a competitor in the Summer Games in London this year.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF OLYMPIAN HONORED
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF OLYMPIAN HONORED
Long-jumper George Kitchens, a graduate of Glenn Hills High School, laughs as he is recognized by the Augusta Commission for his accomplishments, including being a competitor in the Summer Games in London this year.

The revisions give both parties a way out should the relationship sour and appear to address potential loopholes that critics believe could leave the city liable for nearly unlimited costs and losses.

Included in two pages of revisions approved with draft agreements attached to Thursday’s meeting agenda was a shorter, two-year exclusive catering agreement that provides the city a percentage of gross catering receipts when they exceed $400,000 annually.

The change replaced a 15-year catering contract that made the city responsible for catering expenses but gave it all the profits.

“While it does not give us as much upside benefit, it substantially minimizes the downside risk, and that’s one of the concerns we’ve heard,” said Jim Plunkett, the outside city counsel who has worked on the deal for years.

The revision addresses “the perceived ability of the caterer to shift expenses to the city,” Plunkett said.

Other revisions allow either party to end the management agreement after five years – and provide for installation of a locking door between the convention center and the Marriott conference center and the separation of integrated systems such as security and Internet – should the relationship fizzle or Augusta Riverfront transfer its responsibilities to another company.

The city of Augusta can terminate the agreement if it doesn’t approve of the transferee.

The commission voted in 2009 to build the convention center, also known as the TEE Center, next to the Marriott, but it only received the management agreement in late September, after 13 conventions were booked by Augusta Riverfront and the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The revised agreement limits the number of times a year the city can modify the center’s annual plan.

The plan, presented by Au­gus­ta Riverfront annually, is expected to account for the firm’s system of awarding bonuses and commissions.

Commissioners Bill Lock­ett, Alvin Mason and J.R. Hat­ney voted against the deal. Commissioner Wayne Guil­foyle was absent.

Mason accused Commiss­ioners Corey Johnson Joe Jackson and Guilfoyle of meeting improperly with attorneys and two private citizens – Al Gray and Brad Owens – on Friday without commission approval.

The meeting wasn’t illegal, Plunkett said, because there was no quorum.

“That meeting was not to negotiate; it was to clarify various points,” he said.

Mason said the decision to book conventions, then give the commission just a few weeks to approve the management deal, created “a manufactured crisis.”

Despite the changes, “it’s still a bad deal,” Lockett said.
Johnson said his main
concern was “minimizing the losses,” which Augusta River­front President Paul Simon said could exceed $900,000 in the facility’s first year.

Hatney, whose successor, Marion Williams, sat in the gallery Thursday, would not be persuaded.

“At the end of the day there are so many unanswered questions about this whole thing,” Hatney said. “Y’all do what you want to do; I ain’t supporting it.”

Simon said afterward that he was relieved the agreement was in place. His company has ties to management of Mor­ris Communications Co., the owner of The Augusta Chronicle.

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Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/08/12 - 08:58 pm
6
4
So which commissioner won the

So which commissioner won the taxpayer lottery?

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/08/12 - 09:00 pm
7
3
And how much did it cost us

And how much did it cost us taxpayers to buy that vote?

Riverman1
84002
Points
Riverman1 11/08/12 - 11:14 pm
5
4
The Problem Started...

The whole problem started with the decision to build the TEE. Whatever deal is worked out favors the Marriott. I want all those civic LEADERS and office holders who cajoled and threatened to get this thing built realize THEIR cupability. More reports of millions that will be lost surface daily and the projected events over the next THREE years are anemic. Many of us fought the TEE from the very beginning and accurately predicted what would happen. If anyone can look me in the eye say we were wrong, you have no sense of the truth.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/08/12 - 11:24 pm
5
1
Who wants to be a millionaire?

Ironically, the Million-Dollar Man hasn't been named in the story.

Who was the lucky winning vote?

Oh, and I looooooove when I get a "thumbs down" for asking questions. How dare taxpayers ask questions. Forgive me.

dichotomy
32974
Points
dichotomy 11/08/12 - 11:25 pm
3
0
Come on AC.

Shortened the term to what length???????

What percetage of the catering??????

What did we have to give up and to whom did we have to give it???? Who won the commissioners' lotto or are all 6 sharing the prize?

Come on folks. When you print a story try to get a few of the important details. This is like telling someone they have cancer and not telling them what kind and if it is treatable.

Kind of disappointed to see Commissioner Guilfoyle being absent and not being there to ask questions, bargain for a better deal, and at least go on record on the final vote. Maybe he had his reasons but I kind of like folks who show up for the fight and act like the little mouse giving the finger to the attacking hawk on that poster "The last great act of defiance".

So, thanks to the AC we know there is a deal but thanks to the AC we don't have any idea how bad we are screwed.

Riverman1
84002
Points
Riverman1 11/08/12 - 11:31 pm
5
1
"The company has ties to

"The company has ties to management of Morris Communications Co., owner of The Augusta Chronicle."

Why not drop this ridiculous omnipresent line and tell who owns Augusta Riverfront LLC??

Little Lamb
46022
Points
Little Lamb 11/09/12 - 12:33 am
3
1
Shameful

Just shameful.

countyman
20129
Points
countyman 11/09/12 - 12:48 am
2
7
The citizens of Richmond

The citizens of Richmond County approved the TEE Center, and nothing else really matters. All of the most successful cities across the US have their own convention center.

I'm glad the deal was finally reached.

Riverman1
84002
Points
Riverman1 11/09/12 - 07:36 am
4
2
"Changes"

This is truly a travesty….the city got no concessions. I believe we could do much better than hiring Jim Plunkett as our attorney. How much is he being paid for THIS? Joe Bowles seems to be playing both sides. He is given pertinent info by the opponents, yet goes along with this charade. Being an accountant, he knows better. What is his game?

The catering agreement change to give the city 5% of sales is only on amounts over 400,000 that occur in the TEE not in the existing conference as far as I can tell at this point - they have managed to obtain a $1.4M kitchen and that kitchen will prepare food served in the existing conference center. I don't see how this is going to work because of the tax exempt financing requirements….unless they slip in some other additional wording.

The shortening of the contract on the management part of the center is 5 years because the tax exempt financing won't permit it to be any longer and probably it can't be longer than 2 years…..
the contract on the catering is a farce…there are no audited statements, they may have agreed to a separate power metering system (but it hasn't been done yet), there is still an assignment of the management contract to Wells Fargo ( no one will explain why and that should be looked into), and in general the things that are different in the contract are nothing more than absolute silly fluff.

The "changes" are beyond laughable. The beer will still be commingled and jingled together….as will all the other food and items used in the kitchen with no audit supervision….and the contract is unclear as to how it is structured with the Marriott now acting as a concessionaire to some degree in the new TEE part….but the tax exempt financing doesn't allow that.

Who owns the TEE anyway? Paul Simon has signed off on all change orders and other contract issues when, in fact, the city is the owner. So how will it be determined what is catered in the TEE section? See a conflict of interest here?

Riverman1
84002
Points
Riverman1 11/09/12 - 07:47 am
6
2
Activist Al Gray

Al Gray deserves a civic award of the highest degree for all the gratis work he has done to protect the interests of the people, but you can be certain THAT will never happen. Among other things, he was the one who pointed out Paul Simon signed off on change orders and other contract issues.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 11/09/12 - 09:05 am
1
0
Better Use Of The Augusta/County Website

We have a confusing, but working, Augusta/County Website.
If the Political crowd wanted the citizens and taxpayers to be informed they would post these agreements in PDF format for access on the website. That is, IF they wanted the citizens and taxpayers can be better informed of what they sign us up for to pay?

NOTE:
Commissioner Wayne Guil­foyle was absent this was unusual?
But Commissioners Bill Lock­ett, Alvin Mason and J.R. Hat­ney voted against the deal.

Summary
With everything said above, the latest agreement is better than the self written joke that was initially submitted.

We have now have 5 years instead 15 or 50,
Equipment issues addressed somewhat,
Staff issues have been addressed somewhat,
and a few other important modifications.

Going forward there is NO excuse for the Commissioners to ever make such a stupid mistake again.

But just wait, there will be another latest and greatest save Downtown Project cycle in 10 to 12 years and we'll be at it again.

seenitB4
87284
Points
seenitB4 11/09/12 - 08:16 am
4
0
Unusual??

When you see a train coming...you step out of the way...:)

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 11/09/12 - 08:19 am
3
0
To Mr. Mason

I see from the article you have a major problem with Commissioners talking with concerned citizens and experts. Even though it was done to better understand the legal and community concerns.

Why does this upset you?

Mr. Mason, maybe you should try it.

Voting based on knowledge, instead of blindly following the lead of others, would save the taxpayers lots of grief.

naycan
42
Points
naycan 11/09/12 - 08:43 am
1
1
Countyman

I am not sure who you are or where you get your fact, but I know very few centers make money. They are subsidized by their local government. Also, the CVB sold a bill of goods to the citizens of this community by making presentations the center would break even in the third year. I know. I sat through it five years ago. It is the second white elephant downtown. Oh, also the Marriot Convention Center in the hotel is owned by the city and not the hotel. It was paid for with tax dollars.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/09/12 - 08:57 am
2
0
And still the story still

And still the story still doesn't say who the magic deciding vote was.

Previously, the vote failed by one vote. Who changed? Who got bought?

Conservative Man
5564
Points
Conservative Man 11/09/12 - 11:54 am
4
0
The city will get 5% of the

The city will get 5% of the catering profits if catering goes over $400,000. What a deal!!!!!!
Yeah, without an auditing process in place I predict that every year the Center will do ..oh say about $395 grand in catering....who's to know (wink wink nudge nudge)....
And countyman your statement that " the people approved the TEE and nothing else matters?'" is ridiculous....

ALL that matters is that we approved to build it?
It does NOT matter that Matt Aitkins' very FIRST vote was to approve this thing which was basically a pay-off to the black leadership in return for supporting his candidcay?
It does NOT matter that from day one this thing was put into place to be a cash cow for Augusta Riverfront LLC at the expense of the taxpayers's?
It does NOT matter that the attorney hired by the city ostensibly to look out for the interests of the taxpayers was essentially a double agent more concerned about the profit margins of said LLC?
It does NOT matter that there were "shady" dealing concerning bribes and potential federal crimes before ground was even broken on this thing..
It does NOT matter that even after citizens groups started doing the work our "esteemed" Mayor and the commissioners SHOULD have been doing they still balked at ant HINT of looking at the details?
It does NOT matter that the city administrator Fred Russell proved himself over and over again to be an agent of the money not an agent of the city?
It does NOT matter that more than one private citizen who came before the commission to speak on this issue was treated dismissively and in some cases outright contempt by our elected officials who serve at the pleasure of said citizens?..
It does NOT matter that these convention centers all over the country are suffering therby saddling communities with large outlays of unavailable funds that could be better used?
I could go on but my fingers are getting tired.....

Any one who says this is a good deal for any one OTHER than Paul Simon et al, is deluding themselves...and ultimately the taxpayers will, yet again, have to pay the bills for the complicity of our "so-called" city leaders and their cronies who choose to feed at the public trough at the expense OF the public......

Little Lamb
46022
Points
Little Lamb 11/09/12 - 11:25 am
4
0
@Insider

Clearly, the sixth vote was Corey Johnson (of David Fry fame).

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 11/09/12 - 11:34 am
3
0
Aside from the boondoggles

Aside from the boondoggles and siphoning the coffer, I'll point out that having a big honkin TEE Center may be in line with other metros, but the lack of small businesses in the empty spaces on Broad and the side streets isn't. People will come once and have high expectation with the fancy TEE, but when they venture out, reality will come into play. I want it ALL to be successful. Too much tax money was spent to build and operate the TEE and not enough left to allocate to small business start-up with grants and loans. Augusta needs legitimate options for people who are willing to take a risk and go into business downtown. There are application processes and interest in it, but approvals are not happening. That's my perspective anyway.

itsanotherday1
43255
Points
itsanotherday1 11/09/12 - 11:42 am
5
1
"Al Gray deserves a civic

"Al Gray deserves a civic award of the highest degree for all the gratis work he has done to protect the interests of the people, but you can be certain THAT will never happen."

And the thing a lot of readers don't know is that Al doesn't even live in ARC, he lives in Lincoln County and has ColCo property too.

In other words the only dog he really has in this fight is a personal commitment to honest and open government.

allhans
23651
Points
allhans 11/09/12 - 12:01 pm
3
0
So the winner is Paul...???

So the winner is Paul...???

Conservative Man
5564
Points
Conservative Man 11/09/12 - 01:21 pm
1
0
Allhans....yes..

...if you look at my post above you will see the ONLY winner is Augusta Riverfront LLC...

Lori Davis
920
Points
Lori Davis 11/09/12 - 02:11 pm
1
0
The other really bad thing

The other really bad thing about this deal is that it is carried over into whomever purchases the property next. Wonder who that might be? Don't think that these guys who negotiated this deal are going to hang around and see the destruction of Augusta. They will grab their loot and payoffs which they obviously agreed to before the vote and be history. As I have said many times. If you want to know what goes on at these Commission meetings, attend one in person. The final agreement had a part in it that was hand written and negotiated right before the vote. Lockett, Mason, and Hatney got a copy of it 5 minutes beforehand. Our wonderful administrator was in and out of Commission chambers while the meeting was going on obviously texting. The two Commissioners who made this happen, and you know who you are, should be ashamed... And for Countyman...I had a man say to me one time,"I don't care if some one died over this Tee Center, we needed it." Your mentality as well. Shameful.

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