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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.

Comments (38) Add comment
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OpenCurtain
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OpenCurtain 12/31/12 - 09:26 pm
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Took some digging

But for the Consolidated Business District
There shootings, but no MURDERS on Broad St.
Just Off of Broad St. Yes, but on Broad St. No

Data for 2012 ---- Still digging 2008-11
On July 7, 2012, six people were shot about 11:30 p.m. at the corner of Ninth and Broad streets.

OpenCurtain
10049
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OpenCurtain 12/31/12 - 09:28 pm
1
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Demographics wise North Augusta is 180 of Augusta

So is the type of Crimes and rate of Crime.

countyman
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countyman 12/31/12 - 10:42 pm
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West Augusta/Summerville/Forest Hills= level above North Augusta

I don't even know what the ''Consolidated Buinsess District'' even is.. I know the Central Business District had one homicide in 2012.

Augusta is consolidated with a portion of the county, and it's an apples oranges comparison..

Who actually believes North Augusta is 180 demographics wise or types/rates of crime compared to Summerville, West Augusta, CBD, Southwest Augusta, Forest Hills, city of Hephzibah, etc?

Why do you think the Georgia side was the first choice over the South Carolina side? Developers obviously don't believe North Augusta is this great place versus certain parts of Augusta(i.e the CBD).

Why does West Augusta have Publix, Sams, Fresh Market, Costco, and even managed to attract another Walmart right down the road from the Martinez/South Augusta locations? Fresh Market is coming to Aiken(richer than North Augusta) so it won't be opening in North Augusta anytime soon.

The only thing people can mention is the one shooting that happen during a major event with thousands of people. The shootings/homicides in North Augusta take place with only a few people standing around or just between criminal/victim.

North Augusta should worry about catching up with Martinez or the CBD before trying to go against the parts of Richmond County. I'm not including Martinez, but West Augusta for example.

Brad Owens
4727
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Brad Owens 12/31/12 - 11:11 pm
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Facebook group?

"The year saw the emergence of a Facebook group’s influence on several commissioners, prompting questions about deal making surrounding the project.."

It was not our Facebook group that had influence, it was the FACTS we brought forward to all the commissioners.

There is only one truth...

Riverman1
87009
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Riverman1 01/01/13 - 06:51 am
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Demographics

The racial makeup of North Augusta is 74% White, 20% African American, 0.3% Native American, 1.1% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 2% from other races, and 2% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.2% of the population. The median income for a household in North Augusta was $45,600, and the median income for a family was $58,472. Males had a median income of $42,089 versus $28,790 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,099.

I don't think you want to see the demographics of Augusta in comparison.

GnipGnop
12467
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GnipGnop 01/01/13 - 02:48 pm
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Wasn´t bashing Augusta

Anyone that thinks Augusta is safer than NA, is blinded by loyalty. There was no stadium deal..doesn't matter what the first choice was. Augusta dropped the ball. Guess Augusta will have to pass a "we blew it tax" to make up for the lost revenue....

GnipGnop
12467
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GnipGnop 01/01/13 - 01:16 pm
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BTW

GGGHF was the first choice because the developers knew they could get a sweet parking deck Marriott kitchen kind of deal like Billy and Paul...luckily the taxpayers saw through it..

countyman
20610
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countyman 01/01/13 - 08:14 pm
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Lol... West Augusta,

Lol... West Augusta, Summerville, Forest Hills, etc are much higher than $46k in terms of median income.

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