To get in convention game, Morrow needs $800,000 facility update

Morrow is considering investing close to $800,000 to update Morrow Center, the Clayton County city’s convention facililty. PHOTO: LEON STAFFORD/AJC
Morrow is considering investing close to $800,000 to update Morrow Center, the Clayton County city’s convention facililty. PHOTO: LEON STAFFORD/AJC

If the city of Morrow wants to be in the convention game, it's going to have to pony up almost $800,000 to upgrade its meeting space, the new operator of the facility says.

After years of mismanagement, the Morrow Center, a 28,000-square-foot convention center at Southlake Mall, needs to replace dozens of unusable broken chairs with exposed stuffing, a dance floor that is a tripping hazard because of cracks and missing pieces and rugs with stains that no amount of cleaning have been able to erase. There’s also a large meeting space that can’t be rented seven months of the year because it lacks heating and air conditioning.

In addition, the audio/visual equipment is outdated and a large meeting space that for years had been one of the center’s most popular selling points, can no longer be rented for seven months of the year because it lacks heating and air conditioning, Lynda Browning, president of Angel Face Management, said in a capital improvement proposal to the city council of the Clayton County town.

The updates are important to Morrow, the commercial center of Clayton. The city is trying to up its destination game by putting a moratorium on new hair salons and nail shops to attract more diverse retailers, installing charging stations for owners of electric vehicles traveling on I-75 and bringing more conventions to town with by making the Morrow Center more attractive to area guests.

It hopes assets such as performing arts venue Spivey Hall, the National and State Archives, and 1.5 miles of trails can help bring more tourists to generate revenue.

“After 10 years of neglect, we do need to put our minds on upgrading, renovating and treating the center better,” City Councilwoman Renee Knight said at a Tuesday Council meeting to discuss the matter.

Mayor Jeffrey DeTar said the council is still reviewing the capital improvements proposal and did not know when it would be voted on or if members would seek ways to lower the price tag. Funding would come from the city’s general fund, hotel/motel taxes or some other revenue source.

Getting Morrow Center back on track hasn't been easy. Earlier this year, Morrow filed a lawsuit in Fulton Superior Court against Civentum Inc, the previous operator of the city-owned convention center. Morrow accused the company, which it also fired earlier this year, of failing to provide a record of expenses or revenue related to the Morrow Center or how much the marketing firm has collected in hotel/motel taxes after it was named the manager of the city's tourism business in August 2018.

Browning, who has worked with the Georgia International Convention Center in nearby College Park, said the problems ran deeper than record keeping issues.

She said the facility’s kitchen was not up to code and grease traps had not been cleaned in years, locks on interior doors of the building were broken and some bartenders that worked at the center did not have the proper licenses to pour drinks. Meanwhile the center was using inadequate software for contracting and payments.

The majority of the issues have been resolved, but Browning suggested updating and enlarging the meeting room that does not have heating or cooling with an HVAC system, hiring additional staff with a new events coordinator and office manager and investing in new audio/visual equipment with service contracts for software and hardware updates.

City Manager Sylvia Redic said while it’s important to treat the facility as a revenue generator, it most likely would not be a big pool of money. She thinks of Morrow Center as an asset that sets the community apart from others in south metro Atlanta.

“It’s like a public park,” she said. “Parks are never going to make you money but you want to maintain them because they are about quality of life. They are amenities for a city.”