Augusta Convention Center Opening in Doubt

With opening day in less than two months, there’s still no one in charge of running the Augusta Convention Center.

The Augusta Commission has yet to come to terms with venue management companies Augusta Riverfront LLC and Morris Communications, extending uncertainty around the project. City officials cited questionable funding practices and a lack of review time in rejecting a proposed operating plan late last month.

The most recent offer, coming in the last week of September, left the city responsible for operating costs estimated to exceed $800,000.

Officials have the opportunity to vote again on a proposal Thursday after a closed-door session with attorneys last week.

“I would rather risk losing a convention or two than saddling the taxpayers of Augusta with a bad deal,” Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles told the Augusta Chronicle prior to the late-October vote.

The ordeal has already cost the Augusta Convention Center, or TEE Center, at least two events.

The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police (GACP) was forced to move it’s annual January training conference—what was supposed to be the facility’s inaugural event—to The Classic Center in Athens, Ga. as a result of the dispute. Frank Rotondo, the GACP executive director, also moved the 2014 event which had booked at the TEE Center.

“I wasn’t hearing anything back from the county or the hotel,” Rotondo says in an interview with EXPO Magazine. “They could not come to an agreement, so we had to bail out.”

The GACP was let out of the contract without penalty, adds Rotondo.

The Center’s next scheduled event, the HFW Distributors tradeshow (Feb. 26-27), is still on, according to an HFW spokesperson, but has begun making contingency plans in case venue management and the city remain deadlocked. The tradeshow is expecting a final decision by Nov. 16.

The Center, which saw construction begin in 2009 after prolonged debate and scandal, is scheduled to be completed by Jan. 1, 2013. Construction costs were initially budgeted for about $20 million, though the actual price of the facility has approached $100 million. According to the Center’s website, the venue has 100,000 square feet of meeting space and features 372 hotel rooms in the adjoining Augusta Marriott.

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Posted by Michael Rondon

Michael Rondon is a senior editor for Expo. Reach him @Mike_Rondon or mrondon@accessintel.com.... View all articles by Michael Rondon →