Originally created 07/30/05

Tourism cash eludes N. Augusta



After one day in North Augusta, Betty Thompson found herself wondering something city officials have pondered for years.

Where's the downtown hotel?

"There could be one right there," the Los Angeles resident said, motioning outside the Riverview Park Activities Center.

She and more than 1,500 others traveled to North Augusta this week for the women's Nike Nationals basketball tournament, but many ventured across the river to spend their money in the city limits of Augusta.

"A lot of the participants do stay on this side of the river and, of course, eat on this side of the river," said Barry White, the executive director for the Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Watching money flow to Augusta is "disappointing," North Augusta City Administrator Charles Martin said. "It certainly leaves a lot of potential revenue, and hospitality taxes as well. Augusta gets quite a benefit from our activities."

This is the first year for the Nike Nationals tournament in North Augusta, but the men's Nike Peach Jam tournament has been held there since 1996, said Tammy Stout, the executive director of the Greater Augusta Sports Council.

The Peach Jam brings in about $500,000 in tourist revenue, Ms. Stout said, and she expects the Nike Nationals to be on par with that.

A hotel in downtown North Augusta would squelch some of the dough flow to Augusta because it would be closer to the athletics complex, she said.

"If you put one in downtown, or right there on the river, obviously you're going to be closer to what you're doing," she said.

A new North Augusta hotel is only in "the embryo stage," said Tom Greene, a former mayor and the chairman of the North Augusta Community Foundation, a group working to create a downtown center.

In the past, city officials have talked with various investors interested in a hotel, but nothing has come out of it yet, Mr. Martin said. He envisions a 100-room hotel that would be part of the town center, to be erected in the area of Georgia and Bluff avenues.

The area would include a municipal complex, hotel and conference center and office buildings, he said. These plans are all preliminary pending the creation of a Georgia Avenue extension running south toward the river, which will begin construction early next year, Mr. Martin said.

Five years is a hopeful estimate for when a hotel could be built, Mr. Greene said.

North Augusta has two hotels - the Deluxe Inn on East Martintown Road and a Sleep Inn on Edgefield Road.

Sleep Inn has one of Nike National's 24 teams staying there but the Deluxe Inn has none, management at the hotels said.

The Country Suites Augusta Riverwalk in downtown Augusta has the Atlanta-based Georgia Metros team, their coaches, family and friends. About 25 people settled there, said Joyce Paul, a member of the Metros party.

"It's close," she said, adding that if North Augusta wants to have a hotel for tournaments such as this one, they need to have fun things for the young women to do, and they need to be accessible.

Ms. Thompson said she wanted fliers pointing her to good food and fun shopping. She had money to burn. All she needed was the reason.

Reach Tony Lombardo at (706) 823-3227 or tony.lombardo@augustachronicle.com.