2006-03-17 / Front Page

Candidate calls for $700K recall

By John Temple Ligon

Columbia mayoral candidate Kevin Fisher asked last week why the City of Columbia paid one contractor under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) but not the others, all of whom signed with the city under the same MOU.

The Atlanta/ Columbia architecture and engineering firm Stevens & Wilkinson collected about $700,000 from the city for design work on a convention center headquarters Hilton hotel never built. The hotel's total development costs came to $73 million, more than $240,000 per room and much more than was remotely feasible.

Actually, Stevens & Wilkinson never designed the hotel. It was designed by the Atlanta firm Thompson Ventulett Stainback, a noted national hotel design group with 250 architects. TVS is the same firm that designed the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, again under local connection with S&W, although TVS doesn't list the project on their website.

S&W's Columbia principal Bobby Lyles signed the MOU in the spring of 2003. As Fisher pointed out, the MOU made clear to S&W the city's obligation to the signers of the MOU:

Role of the Developer: "The Project Team will be responsible for the costs incurred prior to closing the financing."

General Conditions: "Notwithstanding anything herein to the contrary, if the City determines that it is not feasible to proceed with the Hotel project, it shall have no liability under this MOU."

S&W totaled its anticipated architectural and engineering fees on the MOU at $2,238,000. In 2004, S&W's city-funded $73 million Hilton deal fell through, and the public financing never closed. Its replacement, the privately financed $32 million Hilton under construction at the same site, is costing developer Windsor/Aughtry less than $400,000 for full architectural and engineering services.

According to the MOU and to Fisher, upon shutting down the deal the City of Columbia didn't have to pay any signer of the MOU. The City of Columbia paid $700,000 to S&W.

Fisher demands to know why.

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