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Trade Center votes to move forward with expansion design

With a new convention hotel on the way and a $3 million appropriation in Gov. Nathan Deal’s supplemental 2018 budget, the board of the Georgia International & Maritime Trade Center Authority board Wednesday gave its architectural team the green light to design an expansion of the 17-year-old trade center building.

The additional space will accommodate the larger groups the new hotel is expected to help draw to the Hutchinson Island facility.

Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates of Atlanta and Hansen Architects of Savannah, the team that designed the original building some 20 years ago, has already begun preliminary design work on the project, meeting with Atlanta-based hotel developer Songy Highroads, which will build and operate an Omni convention hotel on the island.

The selection of TVS/Hansen was a no-brainer, according to trade center authority chairman Mark Smith.

“As the original architects, their knowledge of the building, it’s structural systems, pilings and everything that goes into the bones of this building has been invaluable,” Smith said.

Smith said he hopes to have preliminary designs ready in the second quarter of this year.

“Once we’ve done that and come to a local consensus of what this expansion should look like, we’ll be ready to bring our plans to the governor in the hopes of getting funding support in his FY 19 budget,” he said, adding that he hopes to have “shovels in the ground” for both the expansion and the Omni Hotel by the third quarter of next year.

The Omni will be built with private funds.

Also Wednesday, finance director Stephen Hall told the board that fiscal 2017, which ends June 30, is on track to surpass budgeted expectations by some $123,000, adding that the preliminary budget for 2018 indicates it will be another good year for the trade center.

The trade center ended fiscal 2016 more than half a million dollars favorable to budget.

“Favorable to budget” is not an indication that the trade center is in the black, but rather that it beat budgeted projections. Convention centers rarely make money, but rather support those lucrative industries — such as trade and tourism — that contribute to a community’s economic wellbeing.

Revenues for FY 2018 are projected to be up 18 percent with an exceptional number of event bookings already confirmed for the year, Hall said.

A budget workshop is set for later this month.

Trade center general manager Sherrie Spinks reported on the results of the building’s energy audit to document eligibility for LEED certification, conducted last year by Sustainable Investment Group. LEED certification is the premier global mark of achievement in environmentally responsible building.

“It came as a surprise to everyone but me that we are only five points away from Gold certification, which is huge,” she said, adding that, because it is so close, the board has the option of purchasing renewable energy credits to give it enough points to reach the gold level.

The board agreed unanimously to purchase five credits for $5,000. The trade center should receive its certification in May or June, Spinks said.

“When we do, we will be the only convention center in the state of Georgia and one of only a handful in the country with Gold Leed certification,” she said. “This is huge, especially as we look to attract larger, national conventions.”

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