Augusta Regional Airport officials and the new owners of the terminal's restaurant say they didn't know what they were getting into when they began renovating the High Flight Cafe.
Now faced with spending more money on the facility or not having it meet safety and health regulations, airport officials expect to invest more in the restaurant to keep it open even though it might be demolished in two years along with the rest of the terminal.
"What we've got over there is an obsolete, dilapidated operation," said Augusta Aviation Commission member Chris Cunningham, who has a background in restaurant management as the president of The Wife Saver. "They bought a pig in a poke, of the truest sense."
Airport officials said that when members of High Flight Enterprises LLC took over the restaurant's lease July 1, they did not have a chance to inspect the kitchen and facilities until former restaurant owner Pat James left.
After a whirlwind renovation, the cafe reopened as a sit-down restaurant July 10.
Last month, the Aviation Commission agreed to spend up to $48,000 for new equipment, such as a dishwasher and an air-conditioning system. Because of cheaper bids, the approved purchases totaled about $38,000, but that did not cover all of the costs of the renovation.
Airport Director Ken Kraemer recommended giving the $10,000 difference to the restaurant owners to cover labor costs associated with fixing up the cafe.
Aviation Commissioner Sheila Paulk questioned whether that would take care of the restaurant's upgrades.
"Is it the end? Probably not," Mr. Kraemer said.
He said inspectors from both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Richmond County Health Department had visited the facility and come up with a list of improvements that are necessary to bring it up to newer standards.
Henry Gilmer, the environmental health urban county director for the health department, said restaurant owners must get a new permit any time the restaurant changes ownership or location. Owners are given time to make necessary improvements, he added.
"If they're in the process of working on it, we're not going to shut them down that day," he said.
The biggest expense to satisfy the inspectors will probably be stripping and repainting the floor or putting down linoleum, officials said.
Some board members voiced concern about spending more money on the restaurant or reimbursing the labor costs.
"I think that we were gracious in giving him $48,000 to upgrade this facility, and whatever other costs that he incurred in labor should be worked into the hard work of making this facility work," Aviation Commissioner Joe Scott said.
Ms. Paulk said the board should keep in mind that the restaurant would probably be destroyed once a new terminal is built and suggested the airport decide how much they want to spend.
The Aviation Commission ultimately voted to use the $10,000 to cover the labor costs, pending an itemized list of expenses from the restaurant owners.
The board also approved a measure to reallocate $5,000 to the maintenance fund to cover work the airport has done on the restaurant.
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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