|By Eric Curl, Savannah Morning News,
Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 13, 2011--The Chatham County Commission voted 6-3 Friday to accept an agreement with the preferred developer of a proposed convention center hotel on Hutchinson Island that could be built with the help of government funding.
The vote also allows for the hiring of three consultants, at a cost of no more than $25,000, to conduct a study of the hotel plan that supporters say is needed to attract larger conventions to the city.
Commissioners Helen Stone, David Gellatly and Dean Kicklighter voted against the motion.
Chairman Pete Liakakis said the commission's action was not a vote to build the hotel, but for the county to take over the agreement at the request of the Georgia International and Maritime Trade Center Authority. The question of whether to support a hotel will come back for consideration after the studies determine the impacts and benefits of the plan.
"We have to look at the overall situation and see how it is going to help our citizens," Liakakis said.
Stone noted that $25,000 was still under consideration during the meeting.
"That's 25,000 of taxpayer dollars," she said. "I want to be clear with that."
Commissioner Pat Shay, who serves as the county's representative on the trade authority, said the money will come from funds allocated for the trade center and is not being taken from any other programs. The studies will also provide the independent advice they need to make a decision, Shay said.
"For that reason, I think it is money well spent," he said.
Before a proposal is brought to the commission, a consultant will update the economic analysis it conducted more than a year ago for the project and another firm will review those findings, said Assistant County Manager Pat Monahan. The third study will look at the impact on existing hotels and convention businesses, Monahan said.
The entire process should take four to six weeks to complete, Monahan said.
"I don't think there is an awful lot of work involved, but it will put a fresh set of eyes on the data and help in the future decision making," he said.
Commissioner Pat Farrell said he wants the studies to look at adding meeting space to the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center and not just to a hotel.
"I'm not in favor of using public monies for the room tower, but I'm more open to consideration of using some form of public monies to expand the trade center," Farrell said.
Commissioner Dean Kicklighter said he could not vote for the agreement because of a section that states government financial assistance is expected. No one should have such expectations these days, Kicklighter said.
Monahan said a different section of the agreement, where it states no public money will be used for the hotel, more accurately reflected the trade center's intentions.
But when pressed by Farrell, Monahan said the provision was only a suggestion and he could not guarantee the final proposal would not include public funding for the hotel component.
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