Originally created 06/18/04

Study calls for exhibit center



Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Barry White laid out the case to city commissioners Thursday for a Reynolds Street exhibit and trade center to be included on the next special purpose sales tax program.

Mr. White outlined the bureau's exhibit and trade center feasibility study, which was prompted by a 2002 survey that showed Augusta lost more than $7 million in business from conventions that went elsewhere because the city did not have facilities to accommodate them.

"One convention that we just lost recently was the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association," Mr. White said. "We hosted them last in 1996, but they've grown. They cannot meet in Augusta. They can meet in Athens, Jekyll, other places around the state because we do not have the facilities."

The combined exhibit, ballroom and meeting space of Augusta facilities, such as the Radisson Riverfront Hotel conference center, the civic center, and the Sheraton Augusta Hotel, is 65,583 square feet, according to the study.

Other cities, including Athens, Columbus and Columbia, are constructing or have completed convention and trade center facilities.

Of the 13 comparable cities in the state, Augusta ranks first in nearby hotel rooms and fourth in meeting space but last in exhibit hall space.

Cost estimates range from $16.4 million to $20.1 million, excluding land and pre-opening costs.

Operating projections show the proposed facility would have a net operating loss of $176,000 but an economic impact of $25.1 million in direct and induced spending the first year. It also would create 630 jobs and earnings of $17.6 million, according to the study.

Total tax revenue the first year is estimated to be $1.42 million.

The next step in the bureau's plan is to get the center funded through the special purpose sales tax.

Also at Thursday's meeting, commissioners again discussed proposed recreation and public works projects.

Mr. Cheek said he was disappointed that a citizens committee, which made recommendations on which projects should be funded and by how much, had allocated only $11 million to recreation and parks programs. The department had requested $59 million.

Mr. Cheeks said recreation projects had carried the tax program in previous votes and that he felt it was a mistake to abandon recreation and infrastructure in favor of arenas and other entertainment venues.

Commissioner Don Grantham once again issued a call for an $800,000 to $1 million water assessment study concerning the area's water supply, specifically the Savannah River.

"We're not going to need parks and roads if we don't have water," he said.

New interim Administrator Fred Russell said the study would be on the next list presented to the commission.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

The next meeting on the special purpose sales tax program will be at 3 p.m. Thursday on the eighth floor of the municipal building.