High School Sports

Long-standing Macon Coliseum issues put under spotlight

Veterans senior demonstrates the difficulty of playing on non-regulation courts

Veterans senior Anna Nicholson demonstrates the difference one foot makes when shooting and rebounding. The Veterans girls basketball team was one of the many teams affected by the GHSA's decision to allow the state championships to be played with
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Veterans senior Anna Nicholson demonstrates the difference one foot makes when shooting and rebounding. The Veterans girls basketball team was one of the many teams affected by the GHSA's decision to allow the state championships to be played with

For Hancock Central boys basketball head coach Anthony Webb, the pain of losing a state championship game at the Macon Coliseum didn't end with the final buzzer.

A poor shooting night and an opposing player's dominant night on the boards led to a 55-42 loss to Wilkinson County in the GHSA Class A Public School Tournament title game March 3. And while Hancock Central left the Coliseum quickly after its loss, any attempt to quickly move past the loss was hindered by a long wait in the parking lot.

"I noticed afterward, trying to get out, it was awful," Webb said. "Traffic was on top of traffic. It was just poor planning altogether, it seemed like."

When news came out two days later that the baskets were improperly set for the GHSA championship games, it was just more salt in the wound for Webb and his team.

Hancock Central made just 27.8 percent of its shots from the field in the championship game, missing all eight of its 3-point attempts. Free throws weren't much better, with the Bulldogs making just 44.4 percent of their attempts. It was enough for Webb to become fed up with the Coliseum and the GHSA.

"There was just too much that happened during the course of the state tournament," Webb said. "(The Coliseum) is the pinnacle of high school basketball, and the kids want to get there, but after this year, it's time for a change."

A MANAGED FACILITY

Since ground was broken on the Macon Marriott City Center hotel in late 2007, the Coliseum -- owned by the former city of Macon prior to consolidation with Bibb County -- has been under the management of the company running the hotel.

Noble Investment Group, which built the hotel, was the original manager of the Coliseum, as well as the Edgar H. Wilson Convention Center and Macon City Auditorium, when the city first sought outside management. In 2011, Noble's hotel operating arm, Noble Management Group, was acquired by Interstate Hotels & Resorts.

The Coliseum, convention center, hotel and City Auditorium are known collectively as the Macon Centreplex.

Improvements have been made to the Coliseum since the first management contract was approved. Seats, some of which were broken, were replaced. Scoreboards were installed above center court and at each end -- along with upgraded shot clocks above each basket -- to replace an outdated center court basketball scoreboard that was unable to display time in tenths of a second in the final minute. A refinished basketball court was put into use.

Still, there are many issues with the nearly 50-year-old Coliseum.

Mark Butcher, the former general manager of the Macon Marriott City Center and the Centreplex and a key figure in bringing an SPHL team into the Coliseum in the Macon Mayhem, has moved on to a position in Virginia. Lloyd Lauland, Interstate Hotels' vice president of operations, is serving as the acting general manager.

"The relationship between the Coliseum and the GHSA has been strong for many years and remains strong," Lauland said in an emailed statement. "Attendance over the three-day period of this year's tournament was approximately 23,632, bringing nearly 23,000 to 25,000 visitors to Macon each year. This event, like all other events that take place at the Coliseum, is very important to the annual schedule."

Macon-Bibb County government officials are keeping an eye on the state of the Coliseum.

A request for proposals was issued Feb. 25 -- a week before this year's GHSA basketball championships started -- by Macon-Bibb County for the management of the Macon Coliseum, Macon City Auditorium and the Grand Opera House. Management of the convention center will be retained by Interstate, while management of the Grand Opera House is currently handled by Mercer. A meeting for prospective vendors is scheduled for Wednesday, with the deadline for proposals coming March 31.

"Talking about the improvement of the Centreplex, it's something we want to fully take charge of," said Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Al Tillman, who serves as the vice-chairman of the county's facilities and engineering committee. "I've talked to the former (Marriott) general manager in the past, and he recognized the challenge.

"The new RFP changes some of the stipulations, and we'll keep the same company or bring in a new company to manage the facility. We just have to get everybody on the same page so (basketball tournament issues don't) continue to happen. This is an unfortunate situation that we need to correct immediately."

MAJOR ISSUES

In addition to restroom and concession stand updates and long-standing issues regarding the clarity of the public address system, one big issue facing the Coliseum is the lack of online connectivity available to fans.

The Coliseum does not have an open Wi-Fi system for fans to use. And fans wanting to access their cell phones have to step outside of the building, as cellular connectivity is virtually nonexistent in the arena.

Behind the scenes, there is work to be done, as well.

Two locker rooms and two meeting rooms are used for teams on one side of the arena for the GHSA finals. The rooms have to be turned over quickly throughout the tournament because as many as six games are played in a day. Restrooms on the Coliseum's floor level -- a set just off the playing floor and another set near the Monument Room meeting space on the opposite side of the arena from the convention center -- are small and need refurbishing. And decor in some parts of the building, especially in the Monument Room, is quite dated.

"I would think that some of the back of the house items may be foremost on our list," Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert said when asked about the top items in the Coliseum that need to be fixed. "These are things that people don't necessarily see to be sure that the kitchen is up to date and up to speed and has the latest in the way of appliances and dishwashing. You want to be sure that the rooms in the conference center are attractive and the decor is up to speed.

"As far as the arena itself, the Coliseum itself, I think it probably needs a significant refurbishing. We replaced the seats, the roll-out bleachers, but I know they're talking about a new ice floor that would be better able to handle the hockey games as well as events that take place in the Coliseum without having to melt the ice."

PARKING PROBLEMS

Then there are issues concerning parking, both in terms of the condition of the lot surrounding the Coliseum and the mechanics of running the pay facility.

Leaving the Coliseum after a game can be a time-killing experience. With only one exit, a traffic jam can easily form. There were no traffic marshals -- either Coliseum parking lot employees or Macon-Bibb County Sheriff's Office deputies -- helping to guide traffic out of the lot during the basketball tournament. Following Thursday's Hancock Central-Wilkinson County game, it took close to 30 minutes to exit the parking lot.

"I went to the first night, the game between Hancock (Central) and Wilkinson County, and when we left out, there was nobody to direct traffic," County Commissioner Elaine Lucas said during Tuesday's county facilities and engineering committee meeting, where the subject of Coliseum management came up in the wake of the issues surrounding the GHSA basketball championships. "I know that's not (the sheriff's department). Y'all come when you're called or contracted to do it. But those events going in there, with the volume of traffic in and out of there, people shouldn't have to sit that long in the parking lot to try and get out. They should be required to hire someone to do that, that traffic in and out of there."

Adding to the traffic problem, County Commissioner Mallory Jones said, is the lot's condition.

A four-way stop that has traffic approaching at odd angles as multiple lines of vehicles come together toward the exit gate is a major contributor to the slow exit times.

"The lack of striping at the Centreplex, it's just nonexistent. It's horrible," Jones said at Tuesday's committee meeting. "You can't tell what lane you're in. It should be part of what we do."

The there was the controversial parking lot policy that charges tournament participants. Several team buses -- the buses carrying players to their championship games -- were charged $20 each to park at the Coliseum.

"It was another horrible experience," Tillman said at Tuesday's committee meeting. "The students are the draw for the tournament, they were all charged to come in and play. The buses were all charged. (People working the event) were all charged for the parking. We've got to get a clear understanding of why that's happening. I guess there needs to be more direction that's going to come from us."

GETTING THE JOB DONE

While a new management contract might take care of some of the Coliseum's short-term issues, any major projects for the Coliseum will require additional revenue sources.

Incorporating the Coliseum into the next round of special purpose local option sales tax projects is a possibility. Discussions regarding that list are scheduled to begin later this year.

That SPLOST list, however, could get crowded quickly. Renovations to the City Auditorium, including a fix to the roof, could claim as much as $15 million of the money raised by the next SPLOST, should voters approve it.

Tillman wants to revisit an idea floated last year, to seek the sale of naming rights to the Coliseum.

"We had a request for proposal last year to get naming rights for the Coliseum similar to what Five Star did at Mercer (with the football stadium)," Tillman said. "There's a misconception that Mercer is drawing all of the people, but the Centreplex actually draws more folks. I just have to follow up on it, because we have to find more funding to get more done.

"We need to look at a public-private partnership relationship so we can get tax credits. I'm in favor of NewTown Macon managing or taking over the facility, so we're not using all taxpayer money. It might cost $15 million to fix the roof at the auditorium, but if we turn the lease over to NewTown, Macon-Bibb County can save about $7 million of taxpayer money."

Whatever happens, the issues surrounding Coliseum, from aging issues to problems with the fan and participant experience, were raised a notch last weekend by the negative publicity the facility received during the GHSA championships.

"We are proud that the GHSA has chosen the City of Macon and the Coliseum to be the host of this prestigious tournament several times over the past 20 years," Lauland said. "Our apologies are with the players, coaches and families of the teams, and we are working very closely with the GHSA to implement procedures ensuring all future tournaments are a success."

Telegraph writer Stanley Dunlap contributed to this report.

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