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City of Columbia (SC) Pledges $4.5 million Towards
 the Construction of a 222 room Hilton Hotel
By Gina Smith, The State, Columbia, S.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Nov. 3, 2005 - The city will give $1.5 million more toward the construction of a Vista hotel -- viewed as the linchpin to the new Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

In a 5-1 vote Wednesday, Columbia City Council approved the money for the 222-room Hilton hotel, which will be owned by Windsor/Aughtry Co. of Greenville.

Earlier this summer, council pledged $3 million for the full-service hotel.

Conservative estimates from the city anticipate the convention center and hotel will generate about $20 million in business for the city's shops, restaurants, bars and attractions. That equates to millions of property tax and other dollars for the city.

"That would be in the beginning," said Columbia Mayor Bob Coble. "It would continue to grow."

Groundbreaking on the long awaited hotel, expected to cost about $32 million, could happen in two weeks. It is scheduled to open in 2007.

Developer Bo Aughtry said the city money will help offset the rising costs of building supplies and fuel prices caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as higher interest rates on the loans he took to build the hotel.

"Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast and created horrific inflation in the construction industry," Aughtry said Wednesday. "Dry wall, concrete, PVC pipe -- you name it and it's gone up."

Aughtry said his company is also bearing the brunt of rising prices. It will put in $1.5 million more and borrow $2 million.

Coble said the city's money will come from profits from the sale of the old Central Correctional Institution prison property, which is being developed into CanalSide.

City staff has looked over the construction budget, Coble said. A specific contract with Aughtry, with specific provisions and guarantees to protect and insure the city's money, will be drawn up.

Council member Hamilton Osborne voted against giving the developer more money.

"I don't think the city should provide a subsidy for a privately owned hotel," Osborne said.

But some say the success of the city's convention center depends on a hotel. Also, the city has agreed to pay $12 million to $13 million for an accompanying parking garage.

"Meeting planners have told us over and over and over again that they won't consider Columbia (for meetings) until there's a full-service hotel for the convention center," said Mack Stone, convention center director. "(Convention participants) don't anticipate having to drive every time they need to go to the convention center."

Aughtry was the only prospective developer who told city council he could build a hotel without a city subsidy.

But he was offering the Hilton's scaled-down Garden Inn, and some city leaders insisted he upgrade the proposal to a Hilton.

That's when the city pledged $3 million to help pay for the hotel.

"I'm dedicated to getting this hotel done for the city," Aughtry said. "There's a real sense of obligation."

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To see more of The State, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.thestate.com.

Copyright (c) 2005, The State, Columbia, S.C.

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