Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Augusta Riverfront LLC Feels Entitled to Taxpayers' Money

Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012
Augusta, GA Commentary

At Monday's committee meetings, Augusta Commissioners refused to endorse a controversial $836,288 change-order for the TEE Center. Causing the most consternation was approximately $400,000 for a more expensive air handling system. The current one meets state standards but The Marriott hotel wants a more premium HVAC system that provides nearly four times the air exchanges required by state standards. The problem is, Augusta Riverfront LLC, the owner of the Marriott wants taxpayers to pay for it. Paul Simon, the head of Augusta Riverfront LLC threatened commissioners that if they  did not approve the change-order then they "could not operate" together.

For Paul Simon and Augusta Riverfront LLC to threaten to sever ties with Augusta over the  TEE Center project because they may not be able to get their hands on more taxpayer money demonstrates a galling arrogance that has reached an apex of absurdity. The taxpayers have given Augusta Riverfront LLC and The Marriott a $38 million dollar gift in the TEE Center, but to hear Simon speak, they are doing us all the favors. To hear Simon speak, you'd think the Marriott was the only hotel in town. We'd like to remind Mr Simon that there are other hotels located in downtown Augusta and in other parts of the city that have never asked for nor received the generous government hand-outs that his Marriott hotel has. These hotels also draw in visitors year round and they also pay the hotel-motel tax which is being used finance bonds for construction of the TEE Center and  to pay Augusta Riverfront LLC a generous $350,000 per year to manage their $38 million gift from taxpayers plus an additional $350,000 for the Convention and Visitor's Bureau to market the facility. What are these other hotels getting for what they pay into the city in hotel-motel taxes? It seems that it is all going to Augusta Riverfront LLC.. ..their competition.

For Augusta Riverfront LLC to be issuing any ultimatums at this point over the TEE Center is ludicrous. This project has been entirely funded through taxpayer dollars and public bonds. Augusta Riverfront LLC has to date pledged zero dollars of their own money towards the construction of this facility. And to top it off, taxpayers even built them a $12 million parking deck on their own property giving them control of the entire ground floor. And we would also like to remind Mr Simon, that his Marriott hotel and adjacent office building was built partly with a $7.5 million taxpayer funded UDAG loan, that Augusta Riverfront LLC never repaid. In the late 1990s, he was able to strong-arm commissioners into forgiving that loan over the objections of then City Administrator Randy Oliver.

It seems that Augusta Riverfront LLC has an addiction to taxpayer money and now they want more. And they aren't asking politely; they are demanding it. They feel entitled to it! And it's no surprise really that they have this attitude because commissioners likely will give it to them like they have so many times in the past. Despite the tough talk at last week's commission meeting and Monday's committee, several commissioners hinted that they would likely change their votes next week and go ahead and approve the change-order. But considering how little Augusta Riverfront LLC has contributed to this project, why not ask them to pay for the fancier HVAC system?

The TEE Center can be completed without the more expensive air handlers.  If The Marriott wants a more premium system then why not ask them to pay for it? Let's think about it. The taxpayers are already chipping in an additional $350,000 to market the facility, something that should be the responsibility of the management firm, Augusta Riverfront LLC, who will be paid $350,000 per year to operate the TEE Center. That's about the cost of the premium HVAC system that the Marriott is demanding. So how about they pay for the more expensive air handlers in exchange for the taxpayer gift to market the facility for them? Seems only fair, right? Especially after all of the other generous hand-outs Augusta Riverfront LLC have managed to get courtesy of the taxpayers.

It's about time for Augusta Commissioners to show some backbone and stop bending at every whim of a spoiled brat who wants "MORE, MORE, MORE" and then threatens to pitch a temper tantrum if they don't get everything they want from the taxpayers. It's time to say "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!" ***

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