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GWCCA eyes partnership with Savannah convention center

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on January 24, 2014

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the Savannah convention center are exploring a potential partnership that could lead to the GWCCA taking over the management contract of the trade center on Hutchinson Island.

The board of the Georgia International & Maritime Trade Center Authority has received management proposals from both GWCCA and SMG, the firm that has managed the trade center since it opened in March 2000. It is located on Hutchinson Island, across the Savannah River from Savannah’s historic waterfront.

The board of the Trade Center Authority met in a lengthy executive session earlier this month in what its chairman, Mark Smith, called a “detailed briefing.” But the board has not yet taken a vote on which entity will operate and manage the trade center going forward.

Frank Poe, executive director of the GWCC Authority, said discussions with Savannah began last summer when the Trade Center board asked for Atlanta officials to review their convention operations. After some initial discussions, the Trade Center asked for solicitations of management proposals in the fall, which led to the selection of the two finalists.

“It’s more of a strategic partnership and alliance than a simple management contract of the facility,” Poe said. “It became more of a strategic partnership for both parties.”

Poe and members of his board and staff traveled to Savannah in December to meet with members of the Trade Center’s board to discuss the possibilities of a partnership between both convention centers.

After the executive session earlier this month, Smith called Poe to ask for answers to several follow-up questions. Since then, the GWCC Authority has been in the process of responding to all the due diligence questions from Savannah.

“We don’t think it’s necessarily a done deal,” Poe said in an interview on Jan. 22. “But we think there’s enough of an interest on the part of both parties to pursue a possible business deal among the parties.”

Poe called SMG a fine organization, but said a partnership between GWCCA and the Trade Center would be more than just a business relationship. It would create a strategic connection between two of the most important convention and tourism destinations in Georgia and permit the two to market each other in a complementary way.

“We could put together packages and could have appeal for groups meeting in Georgia,” Poe said. “We have some concepts and thoughts of how we can have better collaboration between the two major convention and tourism destinations in our state.”

Poe said the operations of the Savannah convention center would continue to be overseen by the board of the Georgia International & Maritime Trade Center Authority, and the operations of the GWCC would continue to be run by that authority.

Such an arrangement — to have one state authority turn to another state authority to manage its facilities — would be novel in the industry today when the trend has been to privatize operations.

“What intrigued us and our board was the partnership that could take place between two very attractive destinations and two very strong convention facilities,” Poe said. “We are very excited about the possibility.”

The Savannah International Trade and Convention Center includes a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, 13 meeting rooms, a 367-seat auditorium, four boardrooms and 1,400 parking spaces on site.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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