TEE project must be OK'd

In response to Bob Young's letter to the editor in the Sept. 27 Augusta Chronicle titled "Resources are here for a TEE center":

 

We do have the resources for the TEE center. The conference center and parking deck at the Marriott is a city-owned resource.

Furthermore, the new trade, exhibit and event center project, now known as the TEE center, is much further along than former Mayor Young and most other residents realize.

In 2005, I served on a city-named task force with former Mayor Young and commissioners Joe Bowles and Richard Colclough. The task force studied sites and management agreements and ultimately recommended the site at Ninth and Reynolds streets, which was approved by the city in 2007.

We are way past site evaluation.

THE AUGUSTA-RICHMOND County Civic Center site; the Golf Hall of Fame site; the city's property at Fifth Street and Reynolds; and five other potential sites were studied in 2002 by an independent convention center specialist. And in 2005, they were studied again.

In both cases, the preferred location was the approved site connected to the city-owned conference center, not the civic center.

The primary reason for this was based on the success of convention centers with attached hotels vs. stand-alone facilities. The 2005 study confirmed initial findings: Convention planners -- our customers -- prefer hotel rooms, meeting and ballroom space and exhibit space under one roof.

To have the same package of facilities at a different site, Augusta would need to build not only the new exhibit space, but at least 65,000 square feet of ballroom and meeting space, plus find a developer to build a 370-room, full-service hotel.

In the 2005 site evaluation, several hotel developers reviewed the other sites, but none was interested. The 2005 study stated that building new meeting space and luring a new hotel will increase the cost of the project by an additional $30 million-plus.

And ultimately, the city would be competing with its own existing conference center on Riverwalk between Ninth and 10th streets.

THE NINTH AND REYNOLDS site connected to the city-owned conference center was approved by the Augusta Commission more than two years ago. The management group and terms were approved at the same time. The architect, approved and hired more than a year ago, is several steps into the design process and is completing the schematic design next month. Bids for the construction manager already have been let by the city. Land purchases have been negotiated and, in total, the city has invested more than half-a-million dollars in the project to date.

Only two actions are needed to finalize planning for the TEE center project.

The first is the Augusta Commission's authorization to reallocate hotel taxes currently paying off civic center debt to pay for an additional $9 million needed for the TEE center. Hotel taxes have been used to pay for civic center operations and debt for more than 30 years, and the bonds will be retired in January 2010. The civic center should be paid off, and hotel tax dollars should be reinvested in the TEE center.

Since the hotel tax is paid by visitors staying in our hotels, this funding plan is at no additional cost to Augusta residents.

The second action needed is commission approval of the legal document for the management agreement, which was requested two years ago when they approved the terms of the agreement.

Mr. Young suggested moving the site to the James Brown Arena. While we are excited about the new Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority's structure and Global Spectrum as the management company for the arena, this has never been the best site for the TEE center -- for reasons previously stated and more.

The approved site connected to the city's conference center has been successfully managed for more than 17 years, and at no cost to taxpayers or the city.

IN ADDITION TO the conference center, the city also owns the parking deck at the hotel. With the approved site, Augusta is capitalizing on our existing assets by expanding our already successful conference center.

As Mr. Young stated, we do have the resources for the TEE center, but the best location is connected to the city's conference center on Reynolds Street.

There is no compelling business reason to change from the approved site.

There is no logical downside to the approved site.

We must stay the course, put the political bickering aside and complete the project as planned and approved. The result will be the best facility possible, and one all Augustans can be proud of. Anything less is not good enough.

For a full history and more facts about this project, go to TEEcenter.org.

(The writer is a former treasurer and chairman of the Metro Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.)

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