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Convention center takes shape after contentious year

Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012 8:15 PM
Last updated Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 10:18 PM
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final installment of a 10-part series on the top stories of 2012.

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The new parking deck on Reynolds Street was part of contentious debates among city leaders over the new Augusta Convention Center.  FILE/STAFF
FILE/STAFF
The new parking deck on Reynolds Street was part of contentious debates among city leaders over the new Augusta Convention Center.

A decade in the making, the Augusta Convention Center took shape during 2012 and now stands ready to play host to the conventions a 2002 study said the city was losing because of a lack of suitable space.

Delays and gridlock that plagued the project for nearly two years until its funding and location were approved by the Augusta Commission in 2009 resurfaced in 2012, with commissioners taking most of the year to debate, tweak and eventually approve management agreements for the Reynolds Street center and its parking deck.

The year saw the emergence of a Facebook group’s influence on several commissioners, prompting questions about dealmaking surrounding the project. But by July, the commission abandoned plans to hire a costly external forensic auditor to investigate alleged criminal activity related to the parking deck.

Most of the concerns involved operations agreements with Augusta Riverfront LLC, a firm that shares management with Morris Communications Co., the owner of The Augusta Chronicle. The commission voted several years ago for Augusta Riverfront, which runs the adjoining Marriott hotel, to also operate the complex.

Other hurdles were a decision to fund an $836,288 change order to improve smoke ventilation to Marriott standards, how to divide a shared kitchen between Marriott and the convention center if the deal fizzled and, most recently, whether to approve building a nearly $1 million skywalk over Reynolds Street connecting the parking garage to the center.

The debates saw the frequent appearance of Augusta Riverfront President Paul Simon, who urged the commission to unanimously approve the agreements the body had committed to follow through with years earlier.

The commission at last approved a shortened management agreement for the center Nov. 8, with commissioners Alvin Mason, Bill Lockett and J.R. Hatney opposed.

By then, however, delays had cost the city its first convention, a gathering of Georgia police chiefs planned for January.

Organizers said they couldn’t move forward with their plans without assurance someone will be running the center.

Despite the ordeal, city officials have said the decisionmaking couldn’t have been made easier. Attorney Jim Plunkett, hired in 2009 to represent Augusta’s interests in the project, said much of its complexity stemmed from a 2010 decision to issue tax-exempt bonds, which saved the city money but complicated land ownership issues for the parking deck.

“There are always going to be a set of circumstances that you have to work through; because you’re in an urban setting, there are going to be issues,” he said.

One issue never resolved was the community’s name for the complex. Despite signage bearing the words “Augusta Convention Center,” the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau continues to call the facility the TEE Center, a golf-themed acronym developed by the CVB that stands for Trade, Exhibit and Event Center which Marriott officials do not use, saying it is unmarketable to its convention-going clientele.

Today, Marriott’s Augusta convention center Web site lists 11 events booked at the 38,000-square-foot complex for 2013, starting with a Savannah River Site-related event in February.

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Riverman1
81427
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Riverman1 12/31/12 - 07:32 am
5
1
Abysmal Occupancy Rate

An SRS meeting counts as an event? I wonder how many out-of-towners it will attract? Is the tattoo meeting one of the 11 events? Talk about taking business from existing venues. They have had a couple of years to market this thing and to only have 11 "events" scheduled is an abysmal occupancy rate.

Dr. Heywood Sanders and many local people tried to tell Copenhaver, but he wouldn't even let Dr. Sanders speak to the Commission.

It's a good thing it didn't open last spring as originally planned because it would have been empty the entire year. You don't think that had anything to do with the delayed opening, do you? It's interesting how the opening date keeps changing. From last spring, we were told it would open in Janurary because the Police Chiefs meeting would be here, but now we are told February. Maybe the Police Chiefs were smart not to try to come in Jan. since it looks like it will not be open then.

When North Augusta opens their privately owned convention center with their magnificent complex on the river do you think it will compete with the TEE?

OpenCurtain
10049
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OpenCurtain 12/31/12 - 08:12 am
4
0
Actually looks good.

I've been peeking in some windows and open doors ;-)

Over the years, having attended, built or presented at many technical trade shows, the venue looks to have a limited possibility of a successful future.

Because of some of the sneaky deals we have all seen, I have to caveat my statement with.

All it needs is a Proper above board Management team, honest operations and a properly tuned promotional / advertising campaign.

Hint: In other words it should not become a "LOCAL" advertising Cash Cow and political reward system.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 12/31/12 - 08:13 am
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0
Riverman - points out the competition

North Augusta's up coming New Stadium and likely Floating Convention Center of the future, is posed to be a realistic competitor for frequent 500 to 2500 attendance size bookings.

Bookings of this size accounted for about 30% of the booking we were "told of and shown", when Fred Russell and the River Front 5 were trying to sneak the deal past our eyes and down our throats.

What about a Flood?
Remember the old Bible story?
7 years of Plenty and 7 years of Famine?

Now remember we are on the tail end of years of a long drought cycle.

No recent Middle GA and up tracking Tropical Storms.

An we have not seen the River or the SC River Bank flood in 20+ years, since the 1990's.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 12/31/12 - 08:19 am
5
0
Questions - that should be asked?

How surprised were "certain" people that North Augusta was going to get the Stadium when Augusta voted NO?

Was North Augusta always the backup Plan?

Or was this Group able to pull off a secret miracle?

Going from losing an all expenses taxpayer paid move and NOTHING in the works. To a complete alternative and approved solution in less than 60 days?

Think of all the logistics; land, power, roadways, Federal, State and county approvals, league approvals (another state), zoning issues, local resident complaints, Fire code approval of the design, Sewage and water and so many other items? All in 60 days.

I guess when you have your Financial House in order, without 20 years of adding another tax to cover the waste and abuse. A government can accomplish things quickly.

But you still have to wonder.
Was the reason for the sudden last minute pushes on the T-Center RF-LLC deals written by them and rubber stamped by Fred Russell related to the Secret Miracle.

Some how I just don't see Gomer Pyle saying Surprise, Surprise, Surprise.

Riverman1
81427
Points
Riverman1 12/31/12 - 08:50 am
6
1
Competing Convention Centers

If things were not bad enough, just what the TEE does NOT need...competition with another center across the river. Look at the demographics, crime rates, per capita income and locations of both convention centers in Augusta and North Augusta and tell me which one you would rather use?

Riverman1
81427
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Riverman1 12/31/12 - 08:57 am
7
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So the Marriott is already

So the Marriott is already using the kitchen we paid for and equipped? Did they even say, thank you?

GnipGnop
11748
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GnipGnop 12/31/12 - 09:41 am
2
0
Rode by there yesterday...

best looking cash cow I have ever seen.

Little Lamb
44904
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Little Lamb 12/31/12 - 11:23 am
3
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Kitchen

If the Marriott uses its existing kitchens, the gas, power & light bills are paid by the Marriott. If the Marriott uses the TEE kitchen, those bills are paid by the taxpayer.

GnipGnop
11748
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GnipGnop 12/31/12 - 11:52 am
2
1
I bet....

all the Mariott's bills are being paid by the taxpayers.

Little Lamb
44904
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Little Lamb 12/31/12 - 12:03 pm
2
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Hmmmm

Sadly, you may be right, GnipGnop. The finances are so convoluted it would take a forensic audit to ferret it out. Under the new management agreement, all Riverfront LLC would have to do is submit a line item called "utilities" on their monthly bill to the city and voilà, the bill will be paid. How will the city clerk know which power meter(s) plus gas meters the line item comes from?

Gage Creed
16455
Points
Gage Creed 12/31/12 - 01:38 pm
2
0
No worries...you just pay the

No worries...you just pay the bill...then you can see what's in it! (Thank you Nancy P.)

countyman
19543
Points
countyman 12/31/12 - 02:53 pm
1
2
The TEE Center didn't break

The TEE Center didn't break ground until June 2010. How many events does the center in Grovetown have? I don't think 11 can be considered not good enough compared to the number zero.

How do you figure the small convention center in North Augusta will be privately owned?

Why do you think it will compete against the one in Augusta?

I can't believe somebody is actually trying to compare North Augusta versus Augusta. North Augusta can even beat West Augusta or the CBD in terms of tourist let alone the entire city.

It's funny because the real estate in the CBD is richer than North Augusta. The Greenjackets wanted to build on the Georgia side, but somebody is trying to act like North Augusta is so much better than the CBD lol..

Tourist? Things to do? Pedestrian foot traffic? I think the CBD is clearly the winner over North Augusta.

Why did they want to build on the Georgia side first? If the demographics, per capita, crime rates, etc of North Augusta are supposedly better than the CBD? Riverman is the only person who focuses on per capita anyway while developers mostly look at the median incomes.

countyman
19543
Points
countyman 12/31/12 - 03:01 pm
1
2
I remember when the same

I remember when the same person said Costco would hurt existing business lol. The Sams Club had a major expansion, four Bi Lo stores in the county were renovated(Peach Orchard, Daniel Village, Tobacco rd, and Southgate), Walmart is coming to Wrighstboro rd, and Walmart neighborhood market is coming to 15th street.

Yeah, it may have hurt the existing businesses in Columbia County but not Richmond. People from all over the CSRA come to Richmond to shop and dine.

I don't know why you guys continue to compare Augusta versus it's suburbs.

GnipGnop
11748
Points
GnipGnop 12/31/12 - 03:07 pm
1
1
Funny tho

The investors put up the money for the NA side...on the Georgia side it was all tax payers. For the record, downtown NA is way safer than the CBD. I'm not saying the CBD is crime infested but it isn't as safe as NA by any stretch.

GnipGnop
11748
Points
GnipGnop 12/31/12 - 03:09 pm
1
1
One more thing....

When the TSPLOST hits CSRA retail you will lose money to Aiken and NA.

Riverman1
81427
Points
Riverman1 12/31/12 - 04:43 pm
3
1
Countyman, are you talking

Countyman, are you talking about our Grovetown YMCA-County Hall?

Savannah Rapids Pavilion is continuously sold out for events. In all seriousness, they will probably have more total visitors than the TEE.

As far as Costco taking business from Columbia County, I don't know about that, but West Augusta would love to secede from Richmond Cty and join us. We look at West Augusta as part of Columbia Cty already.

Riverman1
81427
Points
Riverman1 12/31/12 - 04:48 pm
2
1
"Yeah, it may have hurt the

"Yeah, it may have hurt the existing businesses in Columbia County but not Richmond."

Don't forget Richmond County waived the local portion of the sales tax for Costco for many years.

countyman
19543
Points
countyman 12/31/12 - 05:01 pm
1
2
Once again some people try to

Once again some people try to present their 'opinions' as actual facts.

GnipGnop... I think you need to go back and check the facts about the stadium.. The mayor wanted a public/private partnership before the land was transferred to GHSU... Jim Jacoby who is one of the most powerful developers in the entire state was apart of the deal.

North Augusta must put up $43 million in order to attract the private investment. It's not even worth debating because the Georgia side was clearly the first choice.

Please show me anything saying North Augusta is safer? Why is the real estate in the CBD more expensive?

countyman
19543
Points
countyman 12/31/12 - 05:20 pm
1
2
Riverman.. Nobody wants to

Riverman.. Nobody wants to join up with Columbia County, and definitely not West Augusta. The industry, entertainment, shopping, etc is located in Richmond County.

I'm not even going to waste my time comparing the TEE Center versus the Savannah Rapids Pavilion. One of the buildings will attract tourist from across the US, and the other relies on the local population.

I don't understand how the tax incentives given to Costco are related to the subject. Columbia County gave tax breaks to the Bojangles and Zaxbys in Martinez.

Little Lamb
44904
Points
Little Lamb 12/31/12 - 05:20 pm
3
1
Deal?

The city never had a deal with Jim Jacoby.

countyman
19543
Points
countyman 12/31/12 - 07:43 pm
1
1
Not a signed contract, but he

Not a signed contract, but he was definitely apart of the development.

Riverman1
81427
Points
Riverman1 12/31/12 - 07:49 pm
3
1
Civic Center?

Realize the TEE/Convention Center where the city only gets a dismal 5% of the rental revenue generated has taken away all of the business from the city's IM Pei designed Civic Center that already includes a 23,000ft exhibition hall and a 20,000ft exhibition floor...that's 43,000ft of meeting space that has been paid for but totally ignored. When this space is rented the city collects 100% of the rental fees, NOT 5% like in the Marriott Sweetheart Deal. The new TEE space is absolutely no better than the existing Civic Center space.

And as for the SRS function....the Marriott already took that business away from the Civic Center several years ago, but it certainly is not a new event. At least when it was held at the Civic Center the city made some money on the catering and space revenue.

Riverman1
81427
Points
Riverman1 12/31/12 - 08:06 pm
2
1
"One of the buildings will

"One of the buildings will attract tourist from across the US..."

Nobody believes that.

"Please show me anything saying North Augusta is safer?"

Ha, where would we start...the morgue?

Little Lamb
44904
Points
Little Lamb 12/31/12 - 08:01 pm
2
1
Conference Center

Countyman should recognize the difference between the Marriott Conference Center, which has existed inside the hotel building for years (with its own kitchen); and the Marriott TEE Center, which is brand new, courtesy of taxpayers. The Conference Center will still get the lions’ share of the business because the TEE Center is an empty, cavernous box that is not suitable to most of the business meetings in vogue today. The TEE is a white elephant. That's why Riverfront LLC wanted nothing to do with its expenses — but was happy to tap into the revenue side. No risk for Riverfront; all losses covered by taxpayers.

Little Lamb
44904
Points
Little Lamb 12/31/12 - 08:07 pm
1
1
Jacoby Re-cap

Countyman: Jim Jacoby who is one of the most powerful developers in the entire state was apart [sic] of the deal.

LL: The city never had a deal with Jim Jacoby.

Countyman: Not a signed contract, but he was definitely apart [sic] of the development.

LL: He was nothing but a pitch man.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 12/31/12 - 09:09 pm
1
1
Y'all asked so here is proof let the cards fall as they lay.

AUGUSTA
http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ga/augusta/crime/
Augusta Annual Crimes
VIOLENT-----PROPERTY ------TOTAL
993 .................13,492........14,485
annual crimes per 1,000 residents
5.05................. 68.66...........73.72

NORTH AUGUSTA
http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/sc/north-augusta/crime/

NORTH AUGUSTA IS 9 POINTS SAFER
North Augusta Annual Crimes
VIOLENT -------PROPERTY -----TOTAL
41.................... 960......... 1,001
annual crimes per 1,000 residents
1.91................... 44.79..........46.70

A separate database showed a number of Property Crimes were committed by residents of A-Richmond county when arrested. UMMMMMMM!

Also it is funny for Augusta Safest neighborhoods,
they list many in Evans and Martinez (Columbia Co.)

countyman
19543
Points
countyman 12/31/12 - 09:13 pm
1
1
Please share with us the

Please share with us the homicide who took place in the CBD this year?

Yes, the TEE Center will attract people from all over the US.

The TEE Center is already behind the Holiday Inn Express and the renovation of 901 Broad street(over $6 million worth of private funds). I'm sure the recently opened/under construction businesses downtown(Eros Bistro, Farmhaus Burgers, Whiskey Bar Kitchen, Downtown Saloon, Boars Head Public House, Sprint Food & Metro Market, etc) are waiting for the TEE to open.

Keep in mind another restaurant is coming downtown along with meeting space. The property is the former WAGT building at 905 Broad street.

Riverman1
81427
Points
Riverman1 12/31/12 - 09:09 pm
1
0
"Yes, the TEE Center will

"Yes, the TEE Center will attract people from all over the CSRA."

You said from across the US. But just listen to what you said. If we are mainly drawing events from the CSRA think of what that means? They are not tourists staying downtown and spending money.

countyman
19543
Points
countyman 12/31/12 - 09:18 pm
0
1
Open Curtain.. That's

Open Curtain.. That's neighborhood scout, and not the FBI.. Plus even you just said they included Columbia County for Augusta.

I also don't know why you're comparing Augusta versus North Augusta. Riverman brought up the location of the TEE Center(the CBD), and not the entire city.

North Augusta maybe safer than Augusta overall, but that's not what the debate was about. You can go visit the jail on Phinizy road in South Augusta, and see people who live in Aiken/Columbia/Burke/Mcduffie/etc counties.

Just think of the people who don't live in Richmond County, and get charged with shoplifting, DUI, drug possession, etc here on a daily basis.

Riverman... I meant to say attract people from the 'US', and not the CSRA. I went back and changed the comment from earlier.

Riverman1
81427
Points
Riverman1 12/31/12 - 09:23 pm
1
0
I mean it is just so off the

I mean it is just so off the wall trying to compare North Augusta to Augusta. Demographics.

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