Despite not as many people filling the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center as officials would like, signs of seat deterioration are starting to show at the arena.
Leisure Management International Inc., which runs the arena and nearby Bell Auditorium under a government contract, is asking for $183,000 to refurbish 19-year-old seating installed when the civic center was built.
The blue, flip-down seats have been patched and repaired through the years, but not completely retooled as now proposed, said civic center general manager Pat Cumiskey, who is a Leisure Management employee.
Some of the facility's 8,500 seats have holes.
But whether the work will be done during the current fiscal year, which began July 1, is in the hands of the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, which must approve Leisure Management's capital projects budget.
"I think it would be a high priority thing to do. But I don't know how the (coliseum) authority feels about it," Mr. Cumiskey said.
Authority Chairman Bill Maddox said he wasn't personally aware of the condition of the seating. But if it is in bad shape, he's in favor of refurbishing, he said.
"The seats are going to have to be replaced sometime," he said.
Mr. Maddox wants to make sure the project is bid out to more than one company. "That's strictly business," he said.
Leisure Management has received an estimate from Country Roads Inc. of Conyers, Ga., to get a "ballpark figure" according to Mr. Cumiskey.
Meanwhile, other authority members, like B.J. Blackwood, appear reluctant to cough up more money to repair seating while $1 million is already being spent to install an ice floor in the civic center for minor league hockey games.
"One million dollars for an ice floor is a huge capital item," she said. "If people (on the authority) are going to rebel against more capital expenses this year, I wouldn't have a problem with that."
Other items on Leisure Management's capital projects wish-list include replacing flushing devices on toilets at a cost of $5,000, repaving parking lots for $95,000, and purchasing new computer software for $15,000 to book and update event files electronically.
"In facilities around the country, they have this booking software," said Christine Loftin, the civic center complex's director of sales and marketing. "It makes the booking process easier, faster and more accurate."
Another big-ticket item involves converting the civic center's air chillers to comply with the federal Clean Air Act of 1990, which must be done by 2000. There are two options, the more costly estimated at $151,190 and the cheaper option at $100,000.
Mr. Maddox anticipates discussing the capital projects budget at the authority's finance committee meeting Thursday.
At last month's authority meeting, the board approved Leisure Management's $2.3 million operating budget but took no action on the proposed capital projects budget. The authority is funded by beer and hotel-motel sales taxes.
Allowing items to count as capital expenses enables Leisure Management to take that money off operating-expense accounts, thus getting closer to the goal of reducing the civic center's operating deficit, said authority member Billy Holden. According to the contract between the authority and Leisure Management, the private management firm will be paid 17 percent of the amount by which it reduces the deficit, which concerns Mr. Holden.
"That's 17 percent of the taxpayers' money," he said.
Ms. Blackwood and authority member Tim Mirshak are taking a wait-and-see approach toward approving money for more physical improvements to the civic center.
"We just made a huge capital investment in the $1 million ice floor. Until hockey can `show us the money,' some things should be put on hold," Ms. Blackwood said.
The authority's focus should be directed toward completing the ice floor, Mr. Mirshak said. "We need to swallow what we're doing with the ice floor and get hockey going first," he said.
As for the ice floor, work is progressing on schedule, Mr. Mirshak said. Construction began June 26 and is supposed to take at least 70 days.
Once complete, the ice floor will be the home playing surface for the Augusta Lynx East Coast Hockey League team, which begins its inaugural season in the arena on Oct. 15.
The ice-floor work, overseen by Leisure Management and Canadian-based Cimco Lewis, which designed the refrigeration system, is the civic center's first major alteration since construction 19 years ago.