City Ink: All they want for Christmas is arena plan approved

If Augusta commissioners approve Regency Mall owner Alan Cardinale’s latest offer Tuesday, Santa Claus will be coming to town early, especially for Cardinale, Mayor Hardie Davis and Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority attorney Ed Enoch.

 

Cardinale will be singing Joy to the World over five years of free paving, lighting, landscaping, drainage and maintenance of mall property he retains. And he’ll be rocking around the Christmas tree when the city abates all property taxes on 1.6 million square feet of his property for 10 years.

Ho! Ho! Ho!: Cardinale will have himself a merry little Christmas when the city is obligated to allow his attorney to have the final say on development, zoning and parking. Cardinale’s attorney also gets to decide what’s compatible and complementary to a sports arena – not the authority, the city or taxpayers who’ll be taxed to pay for the arena. For example, the city couldn’t zone out topless bars if the attorney didn’t agree to it.

Augusta’s gift will be 10 acres of the 72 acres owned by Cardinale or members of his family.

The Coliseum Authority wrapped Cardinale’s present with a 4-2 vote last week over the protests of Authority Vice Chairman Brad Usry and member John Kelley. But will an Augusta Commission Grinch steal it with at least six “no” votes when the package comes before them for approval Tuesday ?

Jingle All the Way: The Coliseum Authority vote followed a closed-door meeting that Enoch allowed four Augusta commissioners to attend, in violation of Georgia’s open meetings law.

Enoch, who’s helped negotiate the deal, will also have a very merry Christmas with visions of bond counsel proceeds dancing in his head.

Authority member Darren Smith, who has led the board push for the mall site, will have visions of more motorists stopping by Smith Tire Co. on Gordon Highway on their way to concerts at the new arena.

And the mayor will receive his first big political win since his election. What else will be in Santa’s bag is anybody’s guess.

A White Christmas Courtesy of the King’s Snow Job: As you might have read in this column, in a private email that became public, Augusta businessman Clay Boardman criticized Davis’ proposal to build the arena at the Regency Mall site.

Boardman called the proposal “wrong, bad for the city and disastrous for the arena.”

Davis responded with a snarky email to Boardman, prompting Boardman’s immediate email response rebutting each of Davis’ claims.

Since then, Boardman has written Augusta commissioners twice concerning their 6-3 vote to set a Nov. 30 deadline for reaching an agreement with Cardinale or tell the Coliseum Authority to build somewhere else.

“Most of you know how I feel about the arena location and I appreciate your courageous vote in favor of ‘calling the question’ on the ill-fated discussions with the Regency Mall owners,” he wrote. “They appear to be ‘bad owners’ who don’t have a concern for Augusta and have been bad stewards of their property for many years. There are many possible solutions for what could be at Regency Mall, but it will require investment on the owner’s part and I have little hope that they will ever come through. They seem to want a free ride and blank check from the City – heck, all of us would like the same deal! Should you ever want to form a very small group to approach these owners and press for a solution to better utilize the property, I would be happy to help. There are many ideas out there to redevelop the property, but an arena as the starting point is ill-advised.

“I do want to ensure that you know that I am not anti-south Augusta. As I have stated before, my most valuable asset is in south Augusta and I worked a block away from the mall for 14 years and still own property near the mall. Its redevelopment would be very welcomed by me civically and personally. Last Tuesday when I was meeting with the Mayor and Ed Tarver, I suggested that if the City wanted to make an investment in south Augusta, that I would certainly be interested in designing a list of targeted, strategic investments by the City to make the area more inviting, more receptive to investors. … I want south Augusta to succeed – it is part of ‘my’ Augusta and all of Augusta is important to me. We have invested tens of millions in Laney-Walker/Bethlehem, downtown and other areas in an effort to jumpstart their rebirth. It may be time to add additional focus to the south side of the City. I am happy to help in this effort if you wish.

“I appreciate your help yesterday in doing what’s right for all of Augusta. … I am also thankful for your courage to do the right thing. That is leadership and is something that has been missing at certain times in Augusta. …

“Kind regards and many wishes for a happy Thanksgiving for you and your families.”

“Sincerely, Clay.”

Something Fishy: And on Wednesday, Boardman wrote several commissioners praising them for their courage.

“I am so proud of you guys for your steadfast support and courage,” he wrote. “This proposed deal is not even a deal – there are so many unanswered points! What level of investment does Cardinale promise to make? How many jobs will they provide? What is the cost to repave the lot? Provide the lighting? Landscaping costs to install and maintain?

“Etc, etc, etc. It is not even something the commission can vote on at this point!

“You are doing the right thing. Take comfort in that knowledge.

“There is something fishy going on here and we certainly intend to figure that out.

“Thank you very much!

“Clay Boardman”

One Man’s Garbage Could be a Homeless Man’s Christmas Dinner: In a recent handout to his colleagues, Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle tried to answer questions about the financial impact to Augusta taxpayers if either of Cardinale’s two previous offers were accepted, but he was scorned by the mayor, who said, “Well, I think this is garbage.”

Decking the Halls of Government with Ambulances and EMTs: Christmas could also come early for Augusta Fire Chief Chris James or a new ambulance service provider when the EMS Council committee meets Dec. 19 to decide whom to recommend as the designated zone provider for ambulance service.

Gold Cross has been the zone provider since 2012, but city officials want that designation back so James can operate the ambulance service or contract with some other provider. Since becoming a commissioner Sammie Sias has worked to cut Gold Cross’ subsidy for transporting nonpaying patients, s successful and succeeded in doing so last year.

Gold Cross, one of only six nationally certified ambulance services in Georgia, was forced to raise rates after the subsidy cut, which should have come as no surprise to commissioners since they’d been warned, but they pretended it did anyway.

The city recently sought bids for ambulances, and City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson publicly stated that seeking a new contract or taking over the ambulance service are options.

At a recent commission meeting, South Star EMS owner Jim Adkins was in the audience, along with Tom Schneider. Schneider was director of University Hospital ambulance service before going to work with Gold Cross.

Since retiring from Gold Cross, Schneider has joined South Star, which seems a little odd since he and Adkins were bitter rivals in the past, so I’ve been told.

Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon said that if he loses the zone designation and does not provide service in Richmond County, he’ll be forced to lay off at least a hundred employees.

 

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