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Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 11:39am

Delays Cost Augusta Convention Center

Augusta’s new convention center is supposed to host its first event in January, but it made news this week when organizers pulled out because there’s no operating agreement for the center.

City officials are now worried further delays could mean losing more business. Mayor Deke Copenhaver has said the city risks losing more money in the long term from the bad publicity of canceled events, so commissioners need to work quickly to approve an operating contract. He canceled a meeting to work on the agreement earlier this week, saying the dispute is damaging the convention center’s ability to attract clients.

A major sticking point is the budget: Augusta has to absorb the center’s losses under the proposed agreement given to county commissioners a few weeks ago. Some commissioners were concerned that those losses had nearly tripled to an estimated $900,000 a year.

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said the contract’s being rushed through. He has suggested a short-term agreement so the city can evaluate the true cost of running the center for a year.

“Then let’s do an audit. At least that gets us a snapshot of the 2013 budget [so] we could proceed for the next 14 years. We’re walking into a dark room, but we’re on the hook for everything,” Guilfoyle said.

Guilfoyle and two other county commissioners will meet with attorneys Friday to work on a compromise.

“We’ve got a lot to lose right now," Guilfoyle said, noting he regrets the January convention for the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police was canceled. "The next [event] that’s coming up I believe in the first of March, we can’t afford to lose that one. But we can’t afford to give away everything on this contract.”