Originally created 06/20/03

Meltdown



You can't say the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority isn't doing its share of managing the civic center.

The authority has managed to create a facility so embarrassing to the community that the Metropolitan Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau is too ashamed to market it to potential conventioneers.

The authority has managed to dredge up business - for other communities. The North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church has signed a three-year contract to hold its annual gatherings in Athens, a nearly $2 million-a-year economic impact, all because of an awful experience the group had here last June.

The authority has managed to cost the community more and more thousands of dollars in lost business and operating expenses. The civic center has seen a $15 million operating loss since 1992, and with the current meltdown the red ink is certain to get worse.

The authority has managed to go through five managers and six finance directors in the past five years.

And this week, a year after firing the most recent civic center manager, the authority managed - for the second time this year - to reject a management contract after initially agreeing to hire a manager or management company.

The Coliseum Authority had agreed to hire former Florence, S.C., civic center manager John T. Mazzola, then rejected his contract in February. And this week's rejection of a contract with management company Global Spectrum comes after the authority voted in April to hire the firm.

Perhaps the contract with Spectrum was overly generous to the company - basically guaranteeing that it wouldn't lose money. Still, after this facility's track record, and the authority's second abortive management deal this year, what self-respecting, competent firms or people would now be willing to step forward to work with this entity?

If the Coliseum Authority were actually trying to manage the facility into the ground, it could hardly do a better job.

"They're sending it to its final death," says authority member Bonnie Ruben, one of only two who voted against the authority action this week.

She's absolutely right.

Whatever useful life this civic center has left is being squandered - along with millions of the public's hard-earned money.

It's time for the politicians in this town to admit they're in over our heads.

It's time for the politicians on the Augusta Commission and the area's legislative delegation, as well as their appointed representatives on the Coliseum Authority, to admit they don't know how to run a top-notch entertainment and convention complex.

It's nothing to be ashamed of. How many people outside of the entertainment industry would know how to do it?

But what is shameful is how our leaders are presiding over the meltdown. They have been unwilling to let loose of political control for the greater good.

It's time that ceased.

It's time the management of the civic center be handed over to the Metropolitan Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The bureau's very raison d'etre is to attract convention and tourism business. They know how to do it. They know how to put out the welcome mat. The bureau's board is competent and professional.

And, considering how the Coliseum Authority has treated managers and potential managers, the CVB may be the only entity that is both able and willing to save the civic center.

Ruben says the civic center is suffering from benign neglect. Here, she is only half right.

The neglect is far past the point of being benign.