City Ink: Mayor dividing city in arena push for Regency Mall

I could hardly believe my ears when I heard Mayor Hardie Davis say on TV that his push to build a new James Brown Arena at the old Regency Mall site has been divisive because people are saying a feasibility study has been done when it hasn’t.

 

That’s right. He said there was no $142,000 feasibility study, a statement that I and others who were fools enough to believe there had been a study found utterly shocking. So what were Coliseum Authority members doing when they had all those meetings with consultants Sink Combs Dethlefs for updates, and where has the money gone?

There were so many questions. There was nothing to do but go to AugustaEntertainment Complex.com and click on “Complex Information” to find the “New Arena Study” at the very bottom of the drop-down menu.

And there you see what apparently didn’t happen, at least in Davis’ mind. Forty-nine pages of presentations, site selection criteria, charts, aerial photos, ranking, requests, recommendations and Coliseum Authority actions.

Davis was present for the Jan. 24 presentation of Criteria & Plans of Original 4 Sites, but he must have forgotten it.

Requests to evaluate other sites besides the original four were Riverwatch on Jan. 24; the Post Office site on March 29; and Regency Mall on May 2.

And on Aug. 7, there was a presentation to the authority about building at the site of the existing James Brown Arena, connecting it to the Bell Auditorium.

And then on Aug. 22, after Davis had shanghaied the process, the Coliseum Authority voted 4-2 to recommend building at Regency Mall.

So what was the mayor talking about when he said there was no feasibility study?

“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” said Augusta Commission member Sean Frantom. “I don’t understand it. Where was he coming from?”

Commissioner Marion Williams brushed the feasibility study question aside and took out after the Coliseum Authority and its attorney Ed Enoch.

“What’s the Coliseum Authority got to do with making a decision?” he asked. “They shouldn’t be involved with where it’s going. It sounds like the Coliseum Authority is going to have more to say about where the arena goes than the commission.”

Williams said he’d just learned that Enoch is Davis’ campaign chairman.

“That’s a conflict of interest,” he said. “Ed Enoch should recuse himself from the arena negotiations.”

Maybe I Never Should Have Called him a King: I’m sure Davis can’t wait for the time to change Sunday morning. He works better under the cover of darkness, and the time change will give him an extra hour to continue to try to pull the wool over everybody’s eyes.

Coliseum Authority Chairman Cedric Johnson and Brad Usry, chairman of the New Arena Committee, were kept in the dark as to why they were asked to attend Tuesday’s commission meeting. It turned out that Enoch wanted to give commissioners new information about the Regency Mall deal, but enough of them had been kept in the dark, too, and got mad and walked out.

So then Davis lit up Facebook to try to push his idea of moving the arena to Regency Mall. He said it would tie the city together and send a signal to the residents that the entire city matters in a way it hasn’t before.

Instead of tying the city together, he’s tying the hands of the Coliseum Authority members who should be doing the negotiating. And the only signal he’s sending is that a small portion of Augusta’s population wants the arena and SOGO (South of Gordon) no matter what the cost or prospects for future success.

With Regency Mall and SOGO, he’s actually drawing the line between north and south Augusta. And instead of bringing everybody together, he’s tearing the city apart.

You Can’t Disagree With Me, I’m the Mayor: Midweek, prominent developer Clay Boardman spoke out against the Regency Mall plan. He said putting a new arena there would not help the Gordon Highway area because it would fail and bankrupt the city.

He also said mall owner Alan Cardinale’s proposal of 25 years of no property taxes is unprecedented as far as he knows.

The next day, Davis responded on WJBF-TV by saying Boardman’s comments were “very inappropriate” and called for conversations that were not “fear-mongering or insidious.”

Then he took to the boob tube again Friday with a roundtable discussion at WFXG with popular TV weatherman Jay Jeffries and others and said there was no feasibility study. Jeffries was probably bored during the whole time because his wife, Bonita Jenkins, is a member of the Coliseum Authority, and he’s heard it all before.

The Light’s Out and the Deck’s Stacked: In another example of keeping folks in the dark, the Augusta Fire Department’s plan to take over the city’s ambulance service and give current provider Gold Cross the heave ho moved forward during a Region 6 EMS Council meeting in Washington, Ga.

The signs were all ominous for Gold Cross. First of all, nothing concerning the zone provider or Gold Cross was on the agenda. And at the end of the meeting, Augusta Fire Chief Chris James, who was elected council chairman by one vote in August, added the zone matter to the agenda.

Commissioner Sammie Sias said it was time for Augusta to get the zone back and presented a letter from Davis that stated, among other things, “Augusta, Georgia, has regularly been receiving citizens’ complaints regarding delayed response times, exorbitant billing practices and insufficiently staffed and equipment deficient ambulances in ems response in the EMS Zone.”

The regional councils recommend who will provide EMS service in Georgia counties, subject to approval by the Georgia Department of Health. In 2012, the council gave Gold Cross the zone, and the city went to court to get the decision overturned and lost.

Meanwhile, Sias spearheaded a move to get the zone back and cut off Gold Cross’ blood supply, also known as the subsidy the city paid the company for transporting Richmond County’s indigent and other nonpaying patients. He succeeded in getting the subsidy cut to zero this year, and he seems well on the way to meet his other objective.

A week ago, Augusta’s firefighters were ordered not to assist any ambulance service with lifting heavy patients unless a life is at stake.

Isn’t that ridiculous? Grandma (a Richmond County resident) fell in the yard, and she’s too heavy for one set of EMTs to get up. There’s a fire station a block away, but the firefighters can’t come help. So Gold Cross has to send a second ambulance which can’t respond to a real emergency in time to save a life.

Anyway, despite Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon’s efforts to have the council postpone action until the February meeting, the matter was referred to a subcommittee for a recommendation. And guess who appoints the members to the subcommittee. If you said, “Chief James,” you are correct.

Some commissioners say they were surprised that Sias represented the commission at the council meeting without telling them.

“Gold Cross pays $75,000 in property taxes, and I think we need to show them some respect in how this whole process is handled,” the commission’s Frantom said. “All parties involved should have had better communication. Gold Cross sent letters last year that weren’t responded to.”

Williams said it was wrong for Sias to go to the council meeting representing the commission, especially since he’s been trying to get rid of Gold Cross for years.

“He came in before he got elected saying he was going to get rid of Gold Cross,” Williams said. “And (senior staff attorney) Jody Smitherman and the fire chief have been working together destroying the good relations between the city and the ambulance service. I think both of them ought to be fired.”

 

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