When Augusta Riverfront President Paul Simon went before the Augusta Commission last month requesting that his company be allowed to purchase a centralized chiller plant to cool both the Marriott Hotel and the city-owned convention center, he thought it would be an easy sell.
After all, Augusta Riverfront would purchase the chiller and pay for the installation of the pipes to connect with the hotel and conference center. Simon simply needed the commission to approve having the chiller installed on its property.
“We will spend the money,” Simon told the commission on September 10, estimating the total cost would be about $700,000. “We pay all the costs of piping and the new tower. We pay all of that and we will spend an estimated $400,000 this year and $300,000 next year. That is what we’ve budgeted.”
Augusta Riverfront would also install separate meters on the chiller, so the hotel would be responsible for its own bill, as would the city, he said.
“This is beneficial to both the city and to us, at no cost to the city,” Simon said.
Several of the commissioners looked shocked.
“There is no cost to the city for this?” asked Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith.
“It won’t cost the city anything,” Simon repeated. “What we are asking for is space on the property.”
Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams asked which party would be responsible for maintaining the chiller once it is moved to the city’s property.
“Right now, you are responsible for maintaining the two chillers that are already there,” Simon told Williams. “You will continue to maintain those two and we will maintain the new one.”
Seemingly impressed by Simon’s offer, the Public Services Committee unanimously voted to approve the centralized chiller plant.
“It sounds too good to be true,” Williams jokingly said.
Apparently, some of his fellow colleagues agreed with Williams because the following week on September 17, the full commission failed to approve Simon’s proposal.
Originally, Simon had told the commission that if the city did not approve his offer, Augusta Riverfront would proceed in independently purchasing smaller units to cool the hotel and would not pursue a larger unit that could chill both facilities.
But Simon changed his mind.
He was back before the Public Services Committee this week asking commissioners to reconsider his proposal.
“About a month ago, I brought this issue before you and after a full-length discussion and answering questions, it was approved by this committee 4-0,” Simon said on October 28. “Then, it went to the full commission the following week. I could not be here at that time and, therefore, I was confused as to what may have happened because it was defeated.”
Simon told commissioners that he wanted to bring the proposal back to discuss it and make sure they had all the facts they needed to make an informed decision.
“We do everything we can to operate the convention center in an efficient manner and save the city as much money as we can,” Simon said. “Here is a way you can save some funds at no cost to you and also it will provide a much more efficient operating system for your conference center that you own.
“We are paying all the costs and it saves you money. So I don’t understand, unless there are some unanswered questions, as to why you wouldn’t have approved this plan.”
Augusta Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle again asked the committee to approve Simon’s proposal.
Williams also supported Simon’s offer and asked the other commissioners to voice any concerns that they had about the chiller.
“There has to be some questions or some reason it didn’t pass,” Williams said. “I’m wondering what those issues were so we can talk about them… Now is the time to talk about it.”
Commissioner Alvin Mason said the reason why the proposal didn’t pass was “really quite simple.”
“It’s just a matter of mathematics,” he said. “We were missing two individuals who were in support of passing it. They weren’t here. So, certainly, people have the right to be for or against it, so I would assume once this moves forward — and if everybody shows up — I believe that it will pass.”
Simon thanked Mason for his candor, but questioned why such a proposal wouldn’t get the full support of the board.
“An issue like this, I would hope that — and I’ve said this before — but we could get 10 votes,” Simon said, smiling. “One day I’m going to get 10.”
The commission’s Public Services Committee again unanimously approved the proposal. The full commission will make a final decision on Simon’s offer on November 5.