After months of focusing on the James Brown Arena-Bell Auditorium complex as the location for a new civic center, the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority on Tuesday voted to pursue the shuttered Regency Mall as the preferred site.
Authority Vice Chairman Brad Usry said the vote, based on a motion from authority board member Darren Smith, went against the recommendations of the professional consultants the authority hired to help design a new 10,000-plus seat arena.
Usry said the Regency Mall site never placed higher than third by the consultants, whose work cost the city $142,000.
“It makes no sense to leave downtown now,” said Usry, who emailed the newspaper a copy of the downtown arena plan the authority was expected to vote on. “Now we finally got hotels, private investment, critical mass coming with the Miller Theater and now we’re talking about leaving downtown?”
Denver-based Sink Combs Dethlefs, the firm selected last year to develop the arena plan, named the existing downtown complex as the best site for a new arena to take advantage of serving two facilities, the new arena and the Bell Auditorium, from a single site.
The coliseum authority contracts with Spectra to manage the facilities.
“Now you’ve got a management company that will have to manage two buildings five or six miles apart,” Usry said. “Can you imagine having to operate two kitchens, two box offices?”
The coliseum authority last year made a presentation to the Downtown Development Authority board of directors seeking support for a new arena. The DDA, according to its minutes, unanimously voted in favor of a new facility on the condition it was built in the central business district.
A phone message left with authority Chairman Cedric Johnson for comment was not immediately returned.
At the authority’s meeting, members were presented with a letter from Mayor Hardie Davis alluding to negotiations with the owners of the long-vacant Regency Mall property, who reportedly are offering the land to the city for $1 a year for 35 years.
The property, at the intersection of Gordon Highway and Deans Bridge Road, is currently listed on commercial real estate websites for $63 million.
“My point is,” Usry said. “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
Davis issued a statement Tuesday applauding the decision.
“Earlier today, the Coliseum Authority voted to build a new civic center where the Regency Mall once stood. In choosing this location, which is in the geographic center of our county, the Coliseum Authority has exhibited visionary leadership that will create a bright and promising future for our entire community. I applaud this monumental decision and look forward to continued collaboration with the Coliseum Authority and Commission to turn this shared vision for our new arena, #SOGO, and all of Augusta into a reality.”
Davis will discuss the proposed location and his “vision for #SOGO” 11 a.m. Friday at the Municipal Building, the release states. The Augusta Commission will have to approve the coliseum authority’s proposal.
The authority, which can issue bonds, has not identified a funding source for a new arena, which a 2014 study indicated could cost up to $110 million. Use of special purpose local sales tax revenues would require voter approval.
District 7 Commissioner Sean Frantom expressed his surprise and disappointment at the decision on Twitter.
“Coliseum Authority votes to move JBA arena to Regency Mall location. I am shocked and disappointed with this decision. #upset #loveAugusta,” Frantom tweeted.