Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lipstick on a Pig: TEE Center Marketing Plan Falls Short

Saturday Feb. 11, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider

After more than two years since it was  approved by commissioners and more than a year and a half since it's groundbreaking, the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau is just now getting under way with spreading the word about the TEE Center. For some, it's a little too little too late and we have to wonder, What took them so long? Granted, construction has been delayed and the facility is not expected to be completed until late this Summer, but conventions are typically planned years in advance, and just now the CVB is unveiling a marketing plan? And it's not like they haven't had the money to get started. The $350,000 marketing plan will come from the $1 per night hotel/motel surcharge which also is helping to pay for the Laney/Walker redevelopment. They have been collecting that money for over two years now.

But some critics question why The Marriot is not chipping in more to help market the facility. After all it is attached to their hotel, and not only that, the taxpayers are paying them a pretty penny to run it. So not only did the taxpayers build the Augusta Riverfront LLC owned Marriot a free convention center and pay them to run it, but now taxpayers are also paying to market it.. which will presumably help book nights in their hotel. What a deal!

Not surprisingly, the CVB has had difficulty booking conventions for the TEE Center. So far only four said they are coming, and the earliest won't be until 2013, a good four months after the facility is open for business. This, despite Barry White, president and CEO of the Augusta CVB, telling commissioners back in 2009 that he had a list of conventions wanting to come to Augusta as soon as the TEE Center was complete. Apparently that was a very short list.

We also wonder what happened to that Hyatt Place hotel that we were told was shovel ready as soon as commissioners signed the dotted line approving the TEE Center on Dec. 9, 2009. Last we heard, the hotel developer has been unable to secure financing and the project seems to be in perpetual limbo. Mind you, that one of the main justifications for building the $12 million parking deck on Reynolds Street was because of this hotel. Now it appears there may never be a Hyatt Place hotel.

Peggy Seigler of the CVB hopes for Augusta residents to talk up the facility. We have to wonder if that means booking the facility for local events like Weddings and Family Reunions that would come to Augusta anyway and use existing facilities. In that case, the TEE Center will merely cannibalize the local meetings and events market, taking away from existing facilities.

This was the exact warning that Dr. Heywood Sanders had for commissioners back in 2009. A professor at The University of Texas, Antonio and an export in the economics of convention centers, Sanders was willing to come to Augusta to explain to commissioners why publicly financed convention centers were bad investments. But commissioners knew better and put all of their faith in their local experts like Barry White.

White was scheduled to make a presentation before commissioners at this past Tuesday's commission meeting, sandwiched in between the presentations of Al Gray and Lori Davis, who were speaking out against the deception involved in the deals surrounding the TEE Center and parking deck. Mr. White asked that he be removed from the agenda at the last minute.

Now Barry White, the CVB and others are hoping that a thick coat of cheap drug store lip stick will make the public and the media forget all about the failed promises and hype surrounding this facility. For the sake of the taxpayers, we do hope that the TEE Center exceeds the low expectations that are already being set, and that this pig can at least provide us a little bacon. But reality being what it is, we are not holding our breaths. Now they are asking Augusta residents to help them pimp out this homely floozy. Well, It's gonna take a lot more than lipstick to make people pay good money to pucker up and kiss this pig.***
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