The scene the representatives of Spectra made Tuesday at the Macon-Bibb County Commission could have come straight out of a movie.
Three young, sharp-dressed men — business suits all the way, right down to shoes with a high shine — were in town to secure the company’s bid to manage the Macon Coliseum and City Auditorium. Sure, there were others in the room wearing suits, but none seemed to command the power that these three visitors carried.
Their bid, over the objections of a commissioner who wanted to see a presentation from rival management firm SMG, won the day. There are still negotiations to be carried out for the contract that needs to be signed, but the county commission has chosen a new direction in which to take the two big indoor venues, both of which are not going through the aging process well.
The venerable City Auditorium, a facility that deserves to serve as a special concert hall for years to come, has some serious roof issues to contend with, among other things that need to be fixed. But let’s focus for the moment on the Coliseum, one of the city’s main facilities for sports.
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Spectra’s representatives said Tuesday they have yet to conduct a formal walk-through of the Coliseum, a walk-through that will guide the company in its contract negotiations with the county. That kept Spectra from immediately presenting details of the types of improvements it would like to make to the nearly 50-year-old building.
“One of the first things we’ll do moving forward is to do a facility audit, get our experts who do this all over the country in and kind of dive in,” said Trent Merritt, a Spectra regional vice president and general manager who is based out of South Florida’s Sun Dome Arena in Tampa and was one of the three Spectra officials in Macon on Tuesday. “What we will do is to provide a report back to Macon-Bibb to say, ‘Here is a prioritized list of capital expenditure items.’ We’ll provide some description on those, whether they be revenue-enhancing, maintenance items, whatever that may be, and create a full, comprehensive recommendation.
“We’ll certainly walk through the facility and use your two eyes to see a number of things that look like they certainly could use some investment, but it’s really best when talking about this type of process to get our experts in there and really have an opportunity to dig in in detail.”
There’s a time and place for due diligence, and Spectra certainly is at that point now with the Coliseum. But there are things Spectra, which also manages the Columbus Civic Center and Augusta’s James Brown Arena, will have to quickly address if it does go ahead with the contract.
One of the first orders of business, and a big one at that, will be to convince the GHSA to keep its basketball championships here.
The issues surrounding the championships are well documented. Long-term issues with parking, cellphone connectivity, concession stands and restrooms boiled over in March when Coliseum workers set up the baskets improperly. While the GHSA took plenty of heat for its response (or lack thereof) to the basket issue, the problem gave those who want to see the finals moved to metro Atlanta another strong argument for ditching the Coliseum.
Let’s be honest here. If the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena make an offer to the GHSA, there’s little that Macon-Bibb and Spectra can do to retain the finals. A top-of-the-line facility with a large food court next door to cater to three or four days of high schoolers would trump any other arena in this state. There’s no dishonor in losing the state finals to an NBA arena.
Were Macon to lose the state finals to any other facility, however, it would be a gut punch to this city along the lines of when the Macon Braves left. The GHSA has played at least one basketball championship game in Macon every year since 1949, and to see tradition broken because of facility issues would reinforce the naysayers who claim Macon can’t do anything correctly.
A professional management firm should help Macon in its talks with the GHSA. Spectra’s list of sports facility contracts is long, including the University of Miami, the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, the Breslin Center at Michigan State and South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena. The company has plenty of experience with major sporting events, and that experience should be a plus for the Coliseum, which was managed locally until Noble Investment Group (later Interstate Hotels) built the Macon Marriott City Center that connects to the arena by way of the convention center.
That said, Spectra’s winning bid has brought out a word of caution from the Coliseum’s lone minor league tenant, the SPHL’s Mayhem.
Owner Bob Kerzner had a minor league hockey team in the facility Spectra manages in Augusta until the failure of the arena’s ice-making equipment forced him out. At a committee meeting Tuesday, Kerzner said he was promised a settlement from the city of Augusta but still has yet to receive the check. He also said he was given some runaround when he tried to move his team to a Spectra-managed arena in Virginia before making a deal with Macon.
Kerzner won no favors from the county commission Tuesday, as his bid for a renegotiated lease was rebuffed. Short of folding the team, Kerzner doesn’t have a strong position from which to negotiate. The Mayhem have four years remaining on their lease, and while the attendance numbers were an improvement from Augusta, they still came up at the bottom of the league standings.
From all appearances, the second year of Mayhem hockey appears to be a go. Playing dates have been announced, and there’s a sense that a good chunk of the roster that was there at the end of the season when the Mayhem made a strong run will be coming back. Kerzner made it a point Tuesday that he didn’t hold the Spectra representatives present in Macon responsible for what happened in Augusta, but it was evident that some bread-breaking will need to take place to smooth things over.
“It’s actually sometimes the actual building manager who represents that company that messes things up,” Kerzner said. “If you get a building manager from I don’t care what company, if it’s SMG, if it’s Global Spectrum, if that building manager has the attitude that they like hockey, they want hockey, you’re going to have a really good relationship. On the other side of that coin, if you have a building manager who doesn’t care about hockey, doesn’t care about what’s going on as far as that’s concerned, that’s going to be a tough relationship.”
We should know more about Spectra’s plans for the Coliseum once it does its walk-through and come to the table for contract negotiations. Spectra’s bid calls for a $120,000 annual management fee plus unspecified performance-based incentives.
There’s more to come on this. But give credit to county officials for bringing professional sports facility management in.
The professionals were dressed to impress Tuesday. The real impression, however, will come when they lay out their plans for the Coliseum.