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County event moves to Augusta, gets new name

Posted: October 11, 2017 - 1:00am

Columbia County Commissioners "mutually agreed" to part ways with the former Evans on Ice, LLC, whose owners notified them days before that they were moving their holiday-related event to Augusta, changing their name to Augusta on Ice, LLC.

In a news release Oct. 4, the county announced a new event that will run through the month of December.

"While Columbia County is disappointed to see Evans on Ice relocate to Augusta Common, the county's Community Events department is pleased to announce a plan to begin new holiday traditions in Columbia County," the release stated.

The new event will include a walk through light display, a holiday movie series with the opportunity to have free family photos, Saturdays with Santa and cookies with Mrs. Claus, a holiday market, Toys for Tots drop-off and the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Dec. , which will also include fireworks this year.

"Columbia County sends well wishes to Augusta on Ice and looks forward to seeing everyone at Evans Towne Center Park this holiday season," the release stated.

At its meeting Oct. 3, commissioners decided against dissolving a contract with the group, the same day Augusta-Richmond County Commissioners agreed to hold the event downtown after waiving rent and fees of approximately $50,000 and provide support services at cost. Augusta on Ice will run 50 days from Nov. 17 to Jan. 6.

Board members said at the meeting they wanted to end the arrangement with the group without penalty since no money had been exchanged with the group, which requested the contract be terminated. But members want more time to request refund opportunities for sponsors and the more than 100 season passes already purchased for the event intended for Evans.

"I don't have any ill feelings about it," Chairman Ron Cross told board members. "I do think we have an obligation to the people that bought tickets or bought sponsorships from Columbia County, expecting the event to be in Columbia County and now to get their money's worth, they're going to have to go to Richmond County."

Augusta on Ice released a statement the day after the meeting stating that refunds would be made available to sponsors and those who purchased tickets for the Evans event.

"It was made clear to the county that any previous ticket holders or sponsors that did not wish to participate would be offered full refunds," the release states. "It is the hope of Augusta On Ice that both business partners and patrons alike see the value in bringing families together over the holidays and will take part in this enchanting festival."

Cross said members of the Evans on Ice, LLC group arranged a meeting with him the Friday before the Oct. 3 board meeting and presented a "suggested termination letter," saying the county could not accommodate it, which Cross said was untrue. A second letter was drafted with similar wording, but added additional verbiage that would free the county of any penalties if the contract was terminated. Cross refused to the sign the letter without the board's approval.

Cross presented the letters to the board and explained in detail several areas of "misunderstanding" around alcohol sale ordinances, paid admittance to the skating ring area, alterations to the park, and an undisclosed surcharge on vendors not agreed upon in the initial contract from June.

"I think there has been a bit of confusion about the 51-day alcohol sales," Cross said. "I think Columbia County has a 3-day temporary alcohol permit and I believe the state has a 10-day temporary alcohol permit. We said we would follow the county ordinance, which was probably not to their liking."

Cross said the group also wanted to fence off the ice skating rink portion of the park and charge $5 for admittance.

"They brought forth that they would like to rather than having it open to the public during the holiday season, to put a fence around their portion of the event and charge a $5 admission fee, whereas we were under the impression that it would be free to anybody to walk through, but if they chose to ride something or use the ice skating rink they had to pay for those events," Cross said.

In addition, the county's original contract with the group stated the county would split profits 50/50 from vendor concessions.

"We found out that they had gone to a lot of the vendors and requested a 15 percent surcharge that would go to them directly," Cross said.

The group had also begun talks with a grading company, Cross said, to provide a true flat surface, which was also not initially discussed. Cross said without grading, the county was looking at as much as $10,000 to fix the damage the ice rink would cause over a 50-day period, which they were prepared to cover.

After the meeting Friday, Cross said the group asked for time to discuss and by Monday, he said he learned about the venue change.

"The lady did call me (Monday) and said they had miraculously found a new venue," Cross said. "I thought they would be here (Tuesday) and try to seal the deal, but I understand Richmond County has already approved it without any details, so they are kind of doing what we did too."

Ultimately Cross did express concern that they believed the event would be put on by a professional service, as seen in other cities.

"A couple of our members had the impression this was an experienced group, the same group that does the one in Greenville," Cross said. "This is not the case. This is a young couple, very nice people, I believe one from Seattle, and one from Chicago, that wound up here because they have family at Savannah Lakes, thought this would be a good thing to put on."

The following Thursday, Oct. 5 Fort Gordon officials disavowed a connection with Augusta on Ice.

"Although Fort Gordon was approached by one of the organizers, Mrs. Boerner, we never received a formal written request as required by the Department of the Army policy," said Buz Yarnell with Fort Gordon media relations.

"Fort Gordon is unable to provide support to this event within the guidelines of the Joint Ethics Regulation and after legal review by the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate," the statement from Yarnell said.

Event owner Christine Boerner listed Fort Gordon as one of several community partners that organizers will include in daily programming during the festival, just before the Augusta Commission voted to waive rent and fees for the event downtown last week.

The detail was one of several Boerner presented as the commission appeared to snatch the festival from Columbia County. The Augusta Commission voted in favor of the arrangement but its details have not been formalized in a legal document.

Since Boerner hadn't made a formal request to the post, Fort Gordon will provide no "official troop support" to the festival's Nov. 18 "Military Day," nor is there a contract in place for the Fort Gordon Christmas House to receive any percentage of donations raised at the event, Fort Gordon public affairs official Geralyn Smith Noah said.

Language on the Augusta on Ice website stating the Nov. 18 "Military Day" will benefit the Fort Gordon Christmas House has since been removed.

Boerner issued a statement saying Nov. 18 will feature "special entertainment programming" for military members and announced a military discount throughout the festival.

"During these uncertain times, it gives Augusta on Ice great pleasure to honor and offer a 25 percent discount to all branches of the military every single day the festival is open," Boerner said.

 

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