Voters reject downtown stadium

Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Turnout in Richmond County was lower than officials expected.

Richmond County voters answered "yes" to holding a public referendum if public money goes into the former golf hall of fame property, and "no" to building a new stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets.

The questions, which appeared only on the Democratic general primary ballot, are not binding, and Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he'd likely ignore the results.

"I don't put a whole lot of weight in that. They're only polling one party, and it's in a primary where turnout is supposed to be really low," Copenhaver said.

Turnout in Richmond County was lower than Elections Director Lynn Bailey had expected.

Only 14,848, or 14.59 percent of the county's 101,770 registered voters cast ballots, Bailey said.

Of the 7,918 registered voters who cast a Democratic primary ballot, about 65.91 percent, or 4,949, agreed that a public referendum should be held "if public monies are used to enhance private investment in the Golf & Garden properties."

More than 77 percent, or 5,845 primary voters said no, they did not "favor spending public monies to build a new stadium replacing the Lake Olmstead baseball stadium."

Copenhaver proposed earlier this year for Augusta to issue bonds to help a private developer build a new multiuse baseball stadium complex at the site of the former golf hall.

Once intended to house a tourist attraction, the 16-acre riverfront tract owned by the state of Georgia is destined for public auction after the passage of Senate Bill 449.

Katy Pando, spokeswoman for the State Properties Commission, said the state continues its due diligence "to put the package together so we can put it out for competitive bid."


When survey work and appraisals are completed, the commission will post the package on its website and advertise it in Augusta's legal organ - probably a month or two from now - for interested parties to submit bids, Pando said.

The minimum bid price will include the $2.8 million in outstanding bond debt the state still owes on the property, she said.

Lowell Greenbaum, chairman of the Richmond County Democratic Party said he was "delighted" with the response to the poll questions.

"I think it shows that, when 77 percent of the people don't want a baseball stadium, that it was very clear," Greenbaum said.

Voters weren’t against everything in the poll, and 4,073, or 53.5 percent, said they favored "using public monies to build a new performing arts center."

Augustans have long expressed a need for a new performing arts center that seats 2,000 "to bring in the big bands, the big singers," Greenbaum said.

Also impressive were voters' response to a fourth ballot question reducing trash pickup in Augusta from twice-weekly to once a week, he said.

Some 61 percent of Democratic primary voters nixed the idea, which is among the options Augusta Commissioners will consider when negotiating a new contract with the city's waste haulers.

"I think the questions were extremely successful and I think people liked answering them," he said.
Greenbaum said he did not think the questions were slanted against the stadium, which GreenJackets owner Cal Ripken Jr. has said the minor league team would like to have very much.

"If the Republicans had the same questions they'd get the same responses," Greenbaum said.

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