Originally created 05/24/00

Conflicts threaten coliseum's profits



An increase in sporting events and concerts at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center is causing some convention organizers to choose other locales for their meetings and conferences.

When that happens, Augusta loses millions of dollars in tourism revenue, according to Barry White, executive director of the Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

At issue is whether the civic center wants to be a place for athletic events and rock concerts or a place for conventions and meetings. For years the civic center has tried to be both. Some say the time is coming when it will have to be one or the other.

"I believe the real solution to our dilemma lies with the development of a convention center in downtown Augusta," said Reggie Williams, general manager of the civic center. "I have had informal discussions on this subject with a few members of the coliseum authority and will mention it again. . . ."

Once a far-fetched idea at best, the thought of having separate venues for entertainment and business might be gaining support.

"We understand the civic center's desire to offer local events and activities for the Augusta community, but we must not jeopardize losing the citywide conventions and events which bring more out-of-town delegates resulting in greater economic boost to the community," Mr. White stated in a May 17 letter to Mr. Williams.

Already, Mr. White said, organizers for the Georgia Baptist Convention and Nike Inc.'s sales and computer training meetings have chosen other venues.

Combined, Augusta's tourism economy lost 6,300 room nights, about 2,775 attendees and more than $2.2 million in revenue, according to research from Davidson Peterson Associates and the International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In the same letter, Mr. White warns that future losses because of date conflicts and service issues could total more than $4.4 million.

Groups such as the Georgia School Food Service Association, which brings 1,100 attendees, the Association County Commissioners, with 1,400 attendees, and the North Georgia Methodist Conference, which brings 2,300 attendees, have expressed concern about scheduling events in Augusta.

All of this comes as the civic center's balance sheets show year-to-date revenue at $155,693 more than projected and $350,000 more than at this point last year.

"When you look at where we are now as opposed to where we were last year, there is a significant improvement," Mr. Williams said. "Part of it is an increase in parking fees; part of it is in concessions; and part of it is a result of the activities that we've had.

"This is a legitimate issue that needs to be discussed not only by the coliseum authority, but also by regional elected officials and community leaders," he said.

It's not just sports teams that take up dates at the civic center. Mr. Williams said Christmas in the South, barrel horse racing, the Futurity and Springtime in the South also create conflicts.

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.