Top stories of 2013: Augusta Convention Center opens after long wait

Exhibit hall brings in more than $9 million in tourist spending

 

The Augusta Convention Center generated more than $9 million in direct visitor spending during its first year in business, according to operators of the downtown facility.

A dozen years in the making, the Reynolds Street center ended 2013 with 34 events that brought into the city 35,500 guests and an economic impact of $9.1 million, said Greg DeSandy, the director of sales and marketing of the Au­gusta Marriott at the Convention Cen­ter.

Direct visitor spending is calculated by the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau as revenue collected from hotel rooms, dining, shopping, transportation and other guest expenditures.

The $38 million exhibit hall garnered $2.9 million in direct visitor spending six months after it opened Feb. 28. Smaller events were held in the first half of the year, with larger bookings scheduled in the latter months of 2013.

One of the largest events at the 38,000-square-foot center this year involved the intermedix Ironman 70.3 in September. The Olmstead Exhibit Hall served as headquarters for athlete check-in and other
Ironman exhibits and merchandise booths.

The triathlon brought about 6,000 people and $4 million in visitor spending into the city.

Another big event for the center was the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s TechNet show, which was new to the area. More than 1,100 hotel rooms in the city were booked for the September event.

“We’re very pleased with the bookings and the events that have taken place,” said convention bureau Pres­i­dent and CEO Barry White. “We’ve seen tremendous response from
clients. They’re very impressed with the facility.”

DeSandy said the center has 16 confirmed bookings for 2014, which are expected to boost the local economy
by nearly $6.7 million and draw in nearly 13,000 attendees.

The facility, which was added to an existing ballroom and meeting space that adjoins the Marriott, was originally scheduled to open in January with a meeting of Georgia police chiefs. The group backed out after the Au­gusta Com­mission didn’t approve operating agreements for the center with Au­gusta Riverfront LLC, which runs the Marriott and shares management with Mor­ris Communications, owner of The Augusta Chron­icle.

Instead, a bridal expo was the first public event held at the center, on Feb. 24.

Voters approved funding of the project in 2005 by supporting a special purpose local option sales tax referendum. Since 2001, the convention bureau had contended that Augusta was losing events because of a lack of suitable meeting space. Construction of the center didn’t begin until 2010 because of commission disagreement.

In the year leading up to the center’s opening, commissioners quarreled over management agreements and terms for operating the convention center and parking garage.

ABOUT THE SERIES

SATURDAY: The merger of Georgia Health Sciences and Augusta State universities became official in 2013, but not without its share of controversies.

SUNDAY: A federal judge ended the Richmond County school system’s desegregation order after 40 years.

MONDAY: Five members of Evans-based vein procedures company The Vein Guys, including co-founder Steven Roth, were killed in a Feb. 20 plane crash at Thomson-McDuffie County Airport.

TUESDAY: The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office wanted to address traffic concerns in 2013 with Operation Thunder, and it did, to the chagrin of many motorists.

WEDNESDAY: The city’s transition to once-a-week garbage, recycling and yard waste collection did not go smoothly.

TODAY: After a dozen years in the making, the Augusta Convention Center opened in February.

DEC. 27: Safety concerns after high-profile assaults and a proposed slum designation catapulted downtown Augusta back into the spotlight in 2013.

DEC. 28: Delays in consultations led to the deaths of three cancer patients at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.

DEC. 29: North Augusta officials approved a $144 million public-private development that would include a baseball stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets.

DEC. 30: Rain played
havoc with farmers,
event planners and others in record-setting fashion.

DEC. 31: After a year of discontent over his performance, Augusta Commission members fired longtime city Administrator Fred Russell in December.

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