Trade center talk runs dry

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Augusta commissioners did a lot of talking about important issues that affect the city's economy Tuesday but took little action.

Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard resigned as chairwoman of the Augusta Commission's finance committee.  Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff
Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff
Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard resigned as chairwoman of the Augusta Commission's finance committee.

Issues such as the city's stalled trade and exhibition center, a delayed judicial center and a proposed drag strip triggered dissension and complaints, leading one person in the crowd to say afterward that everybody with sour grapes got to make wine.

After first rejecting a revised operating agreement put forth by Augusta Riverfront LLC for the trade and exhibit center on a 7-3 vote, commissioners voted to refer the issue back to a committee for further study, also on a 7-3 vote.

The revised agreement calls for the city to pay $250,000 in operating funds and $100,000 in capital funding annually - adjusted for the cost of living each year. It differs little from the one commissioners balked at in September.

The new plan, like the old one, recommends that the center be built on Augusta Riverfront's Reynolds Street property, next to the convention center and Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites. Augusta Riverfront's land would be deeded to the city.

Commissioner Don Grantham said the board needed to see whether anyone else is interested in managing the center and should not be making its decision with only one choice.

Commissioner Marion Williams made a motion to reject the proposal outright "and start from scratch."

"There's no way we can sit here and support what we've got," he said. "We're going to do the controlling. We don't need to be jerked around."

Commissioner Andy Cheek lamented the delay, saying that every day the board wastes it is losing two days to other cities who have trade centers. Commissioner Joe Bowles said two studies had already been done on the center, at a cost of $100,000, and both recommended the Reynolds Street site.

Augusta Riverfront LLC is a subsidiary of Azalea Development Corp., which is headed by William S. Morris III, the chairman and CEO of Morris Communications Co., the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle.

At a suggestion that he continue negotiations on the center, City Administrator Fred Russell said he didn't think he could do any more without more input from commissioners. However, he said he wasn't sure the city should start over.

"I think you need to be intimately involved at this point," he said.

In another matter, Bill Kuhlke, the chairman of the Judicial Center Committee, said the subcommittee hasn't done anything the past two years because the sales-tax money for the center is not scheduled to start coming in until next year. In addition, the city is still in the process of acquiring the land.

The budget, originally set at about $80 million, now stands at about $55 million, Mr. Kuhlke said.

"Basically, we're going to have to start over," he said.

He asked commissioners whether they wanted to continue with the same advisory committee and with Turner & Associates or select another architectural firm, questions that the board voted to send to the commission's Engineering Services Committee.

In an unrelated matter, Mr. Russell said that because the Industrial Authority of Richmond County had voted not to grant the land in Augusta Corporate Park for a drag strip, he could not proceed. Mr. Williams said he should proceed anyway.

"Six votes have already voted to proceed," Mr. Williams said, saying he wasn't satisfied with the report from Walter Sprouse, the development authority's executive director, about efforts to recruit development for the site.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or


- After some commissioners balked at Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard's request that they rescind her appointment as chairwoman of the Finance Committee and appoint Commissioner Jerry Brigham, she simply resigned. After Mr. Brigham said he wouldn't accept the chairmanship even if the board gave it to him, commissioners voted 7-3 to appoint him anyway. He said he would have to think about accepting it.

- Richard Hatfield will continue as manager of the Newman Tennis Center. Commissioner Marion Williams had recommended that the position, which was included in this year's budget, be rescinded.

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JimCox 01/17/07 - 07:48 am
If Brigham wants to pass on

If Brigham wants to pass on the Finance Committee chairmanship, Joe Bowles is the man for the job. He should have been their first choice anyway.

PTDefender 01/17/07 - 09:08 am
Now mean to

Now mean to tell me the drag strip is STILL viable? Are you kidding? MHRA has backed out due to publicity and public pressure so what kind of drag racing is going to happen there? Locally owned Souped up 4x4's?? Is this going to a racetrack with events sponsored by a hidden corporation of Chairman Williams? And this idea of another building project that when completed, will be run by Mr. Morris...for a fee of course. Does Augusta make any money off that investment? Damn, all this talk has me seriously thinking of moving out of the county.

the man
the man 01/17/07 - 09:34 am
Please commissioners...if you

Please commissioners...if you have no true vision for this city and no enthusiasm for moving Augusta into the 21st century, step down. We need a government that can get things done in the best interest of the people and not just a few anymore. Develop your downtown, clean up crime, have a cultural, embrace what you do best. A drag strip and all things like it is a joke. The solutions are simple but the problems are mounting. Give us a break already.

Native Augustan
Native Augustan 01/17/07 - 10:06 am
Well Marion is at it again --

Well Marion is at it again -- he just can;t seem to let the dragstrip idea go. He now will brow beat Walter Sprouse about the Development Authority not willing to exchange land for the dragstrip -- just watch and see. Marion is getting so predictable that anyone who does not bow to his wishes becomes a target.
As for the company tied to Billy Morris running the proposed convention center a word from experience -- when Paul Simon shows up at a meeting trying to push his agenda -- get out the huggies as you are going to need them. Mr. Simon is Billy's right hand man and everything that comes out of his mouth is Billy speak. He gets his marching orders and effective at getting them pushed through.
There probably are a number of Management companies that would love to have the same deal Morris is trying to push on the Commission -- run the Center with no chance of having a loss for your company and having the City pick up the tab for everything else. What a deal.

dakccb 01/17/07 - 10:27 am
When will Mr. Williams get

When will Mr. Williams get it? It is time for him to cease and desist. I for one would like to see him and some others impeached, ousted, fired. They are wasting our tax dollars on their on agendas. It is time to move forward in Augusta, and this will not happen until our County Governments start working for us, not themselves.

kudzo-n-roses 01/17/07 - 12:42 pm
At the next commission

At the next commission meeting concerned citizens need to attend enmass and voice their dissatisfaction with the way the city is being run or not being run as is the case here. Also as soon as marion speaks there should be such noice and hissing and booing that forevere more he shall be silenced at meetings....also signs should be waved stating NO to marions's folly......the dragstrip.
Come on people PROTEST at EVERY meeting,,,show your rage at these clowns !!!!! At Every Meeting !!!!

brainyboomer 01/17/07 - 01:10 pm
The commission meetings

The commission meetings should be held after normal working hours so citizens have the opportunity to show up without losing money or their job. The commission is supposed to do the peoples business...they are OUR employees. It seems they have a difficult time with this concept. A show of citizens on a regular basis would put pressure to bear on some of the windbags and let them know we are watching and will not continue to tolerate their foolishness.

HillGuy 01/17/07 - 08:54 pm
Billy Morris should not be

Billy Morris should not be getting any more taxpayer handouts. Don't forget that he never paid back the city a $7.5 million loan he received to build his office building and hotel. He got his water boy Paul Simon to convince the city to forgive that loan. Now.. he was able to get the city to build a trade center right next to his hotel.... Imagine how his hotel will benefit from that. He also got the contract to operate the trade center.... with no other bids, mind you. But now he says he needs over $300,000 a year from city taxpayers to operate the trade center. Maybe teh city should find someone else to operate the center. When he voters approved the sales tax money to build teh trade center.. there was no mention that an additional $300,000 per year would be needed to pay Billy Morris' company to run it. This is the same Texas two step that Billy Morris has been dancing with Augusta Taxpayers for years. And btw.. Sylvia Coopers article reeks of so much bias, that it should be on the editorial page and not as news.

CSRAresident 01/17/07 - 11:48 pm
IF it is true that Andy

IF it is true that Andy Cheeks now resides in Edgefield county, over in South Carolina, what the devil is he doing voting on anything to do with Augusta?

crymeariver 01/17/07 - 11:49 pm
So let me get this straight.

So let me get this straight. Jerry Brigham says he doesnt want the job, and wouldnt accept it if they gave it to him. So then the commissioners decided to vote him in anyway??? What kind of job do you think he will do if he already doesnt want the job youre giving to him. You guys are a bunch of freak'n idiots and should all be shot. Augusta sucks and its all because of you moron commissioners.

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