Agreement gives final green light to convention center
On Thursday, November 8, the Augusta Commission finally voted to approve the management agreement for the Trade, Exhibit and Event (TEE) Center, the 38,000-square-foot convention center located adjacent to the existing city owned conference center connected to the Marriott.
As if following a script, the next day was the first day when hard hats were no longer required to tour the building, and Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who has been one of the project’s most vocal supporters, was visibly pleased that the politics of the building was once again outpacing its construction.
“I’ve got a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this place,” he joked.
With so much strife leading up to the approval of the final management agreement, including last-minute squabbles over catering agreements, the kitchen and several other details, it sometimes seemed as though the real difficulty was not designing the building or even building it, but in getting the politicians to figure out how to use it.
Late last month, the convention center’s first client, the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, pulled out because the commission and the management company could not agree on terms.
On Friday, however, with the hard hats off and the building’s signature natural light streaming in, Copenhaver’s optimism no longer needed to be guarded.
“Seven years of fighting,” he said. “The initial funding was approved the first time I ran. This makes it all worth it.”
Although the agreement was approved, many in the community are still skeptical of the building. Copenhaver, however, seemed to feel opinions will change through time and exposure.
“As soon as we fill this place up and we let the people in, they’re going to wonder what the arguing was all about,” he said. “Besides, we have the chance to revisit the funding every year, so it’s not like there aren’t any checks and balances built in.”
The process, he said, reminded him of his days in real estate development, particularly a project he was a part of in Beaufort, S.C.
“We were doing a little neighborhood, and we had a great design for the houses, but we weren’t selling anything because we were trying to sell based on the plans,” he said. “So we built a couple of houses and it took off. So I think when this place has been filled and people have the experience, it will be a lot easier to embrace it.”
While some around town have talked about an exclusive grand opening, Copenhaver said he didn’t feel that would be appropriate, considering the struggle and what the building means to the city.
“Somebody was thinking about a VIP thing, but I’m like — no, let’s open the doors to the public and let them come on in,” he said. “It’s their building.”
Now that the political dust is settling, Copenhaver said he thinks it will become clear what an important civic step the building represents.
“We’re giving birth to the new Augusta,” he said, looking across Reynolds Street to the complementary parking deck, which survived its own political turmoil. “We’re shifting into becoming a mid-sized city.”
Given the size of the new space, Copenhaver said it will help those outside Augusta look at the city with fresh eyes.
“It puts us head and shoulders above other cities,” he said. “The Georgia Municipal Association and the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia — they always go to Savannah because Savannah has the facilities. But now we can make a play for those events.”
Though the Chiefs of Police pulled out, 12 additional bookings have been reserved, including a Mary Kay Career Conference in March and the Augusta Tattoo Festival, each with an estimated 2,000 delegates.
And next year’s ESi Ironman 70.3 will utilize the facility, bringing 3,500 people and an estimated financial impact of $4 million. You Might Also Like: