Columbia County moves forward with long-awaited exhibition hall without the fuss of the neighboring TEE Center
by Rashad O’Connor
The Columbia County Commission has a new passion project, one that will drive traffic into the county and cost north of $7 million.
Having outgrown multipurpose centers like the Savannah Rapids Pavilion, the county is slated to begin construction on a new 47,000-square-foot facility behind the Gateway shopping center in Grovetown this month. According to Commissioner Trey Allen, the idea to build a new exhibition hall has been floating around for years.
“The Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) has been lobbying for a Columbia County convention center since their inception, which is almost a decade,” Allen said. “We’ve had multiple people for a long time saying that we needed a convention center; the issue being we didn’t have a space large enough to host our own citizens who wanted to have large events.”
Commissioner Charles Allen, who heads the Development Services Committee, expanded on the issue, stating that the commission has run into many situations where people have called in to criticize the Savannah Rapids Pavilion for not being large enough to accommodate certain events. Aside from hearing the complaints of dissatisfied citizens firsthand, Allen said that a fair amount of research was also considered before the project was conceived.
“We’ve had a number of surveys done over the years,” he explained. “Three years ago, the CVB spent a significant amount of money conducting marketing and branding research, and one of the major conclusions of their report was that the county needed to put a venue at the Gateway.”
Allen went on to say that the new center would be 50 percent larger than the Savannah Rapids Pavilion and that it would serve as a more accessible venue for both locals and overnight guests. He said that the facility will primarily be used for conventions, large meetings and other similar types of gatherings.
“It’s a huge opportunity to hold community-type events in a larger center,” Allen said. “It’ll be host to a variety of events, and overnight visitors won’t have to travel out of their way to other areas to attend these events.”
Although the center will play host to an array of different functions — including gun and knife shows, RV shows, dog shows, weddings, family reunions and more —Trey Allen emphasized that the center has a niche it plans to adhere to.
“It’s not designed to be an entertainment venue,” Trey Allen ensured. “It’s much more along the lines off the Tee Center in Richmond County than, say, the Civic Center.”
Ron Cross, chairman of the commission, said that although the center will not be as large as the Tee Center, he does feel that requests for a venue capable of accommodating packed events will finally be fulfilled.
“The exhibition hall is a concept that our commission thought would be great for a community of our size,” he said. “I believe it will attract a number of regional events. For instance, the National Association of Home Builders can finally hold conferences here, which I think will be excellent for the community.”
While the exhibition hall’s intent is to offer a larger venue for companies, organizations and patrons alike, Commissioner Charles Allen said that certain aspects of the project needed to be scaled back to lower costs.
“A lot of the time, when you deal with architects, they want to build their own ‘magnum opus,’ if you will,” Allen said. “So, we had to tone down some of the building products and address some storage issues; some of the storage areas were inside and [due to our budget] we had to move them outside. This commission is very centered on trying to do a good job, but at the same time, we’re very budget-conscious.”
As the Columbia County Commission manages to be as “budget-conscious” as possible, several detractors from the community — taxpayers in particular — have come forward to express grievances toward the project. One of those grievances revolves around taxpayer dollars; citizens worry that the center may potentially be a waste of their money. However, Allen has debunked that allegation, stating that the center will be built with special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) money.
“There’s always going to be a small group of people who make that argument, and they certainly have the right to do so,” Allen said. “But at the same time, I believe it is important to note that this facility is going to be built with SPLOST money. There’s no property tax money whatsoever involved in that. Also, this ongoing operation and everything surrounding it will generate more SPLOST money as new vendors come in to use the facility; you’ll have overnight visitors staying in surrounding hotels and eating at surrounding restaurants, which will obviously generate more money.”
In addition to reaping benefits from SPLOST money, Trey Allen said that a third of the land where the county plans to build its facility will be utilized by the Family Y — who signed a deal with the county last year to rent out the space.
“We’re using the Family Y lease program, which I think is an excellent program to offset the cost of taxpayers,” Allen said. “And, as Charles [Allen] said, the center is also designed to bring in income through outside visitors and businesses looking for a place to hold their conventions. The hall will also serve as a vital part of developing the area and we’ll hopefully be able to add future developments, such as new shopping centers and hotels.”
Cross explained that the Family Y has had their eyes set on the Grovetown area for years and that, through partnering with the county, the project will prove to be a financial success.
“Basically, what they’re going to be doing is paying rent back to the county for the portion that they lease,” Cross divulged. “So, the Family Y will be helping the county pay for the building itself and then, of course, once they get to a point where they’re able to expand, they will then build on their own property next door. They’ve wanted to establish a presence in the area for years, and I think their research tells them that it’s an area in our community that needs a Family Y-type of facility.”
According to Danny McConnell, president and CEO of the Family Y of Greater Augusta, that research came back showing that the Grovetown area was in need of a Family Y center.
“Even though we’ve been serving Grovetown at several of our facilities like the Wilson Branch on Wheeler Road, our Belair Road location and our Southside location, there was kind of a big hole right in the middle area of Grovetown that wanted Y services,” McConnell said. “So, through that survey, we generated some strategic planning and from there we decided to go ahead through with this opportunity the county provided and get started in Grovetown because people wanted it [a Family Y center] and we had not been serving them well there at the time.”
McConnell elaborated that it is important to understand that construction on the project is a phase one development that includes 18 and half acres of land directly adjacent to the site where the county plans to build its exhibition hall. While a county pool has been a hot topic on the minds of many citizens, McConnell said that the Family Y’s temporary building will not house any water features, but the organization’s future property is likely to include those features and more.
“The first thing we would do over there is build some ball fields and we’d definitely put in some water features,” McConnell guaranteed. “This, mind you, is currently in the development stages. We’re putting a master plan together for the site, but we’re not quite ready to release that because decisions are still being made.”
As for the Family Y’s temporary center, McConnell said that although the organization’s goal is to move out of the building before their 10-year lease is up, it will still serve as a quality facility for its patrons to use.
“The amenities are very similar to what you would see at our current development on Belair Road,” McConnell said. “It will have a great wellness center as well as a fair amount of space committed to childcare for young families. There will be designated offices for administrators and it will also have locker rooms with special features including saunas.”
As with all local Family Y centers, the temporary Gateway location will operate in accordance with programs and partnerships throughout the community, something McConnell takes great pride in.
“That’s the way the Y works,” McConnell said. “We plan on running a lot of the standard programs that we typically run, but they won’t all take place at that site [the Gateway site]. They’ll be happening throughout the community, which I think is great part of what makes the Family Y of Greater Augusta such an upstanding organization.”
You Might Also Like: