Firm to present James Brown Arena site selection details

The latest version of a proposal by Regency Mall LLC to allow Augusta to build a sports arena at the former mall site details several must-haves, including a 10-year tax abatement at any period over a 35-year lease in which the tenant pays all other taxes, insurance and maintenance of a 39-acre parcel.

 

The letter from legal counsel for the mall owner adds detail to a rough framework presented by Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis last month as the basis for an Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority vote to reject several other sites – such as downtown – for the unfunded new James Brown Arena project in favor of Regency Mall.

Written by Philip Cardinale, attorney for his brother, Regency Mall LLC managing member Alan Cardinale, to authority counsel Ed Enoch and obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, the letter calls for a “triple net” lease in which the tenant pays all taxes, insurance and maintenance of the property. The tenant – the authority – is expected to build a 12,000- to 15,000-occupancy sports arena on the site and replace any existing mall parking the arena is built over.

The letter omits nothing from the original framework and gives Augusta no option to acquire the property on which a new James Brown Arena, budgeted at at least $110 million, would be built. It gives Regency the right to develop a remaining 1.6 million square feet in uses complementary to a sports arena and puts the authority on the hook to repair, maintain, light, landscape and drain all parking.

The authority vote caused ripples throughout the community both for and against the proposed site. Members claimed they either were excluded from site selection meetings or had zero knowledge of the Regency framework before the vote.

The architectural firm hired to assist with site selection, Sink Combs Dethlefs, is expected Tuesday to present a detailed timeline of the 11-month site selection process, meetings held and its data-driven findings at a 3 p.m. open session of Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, which meets at James Brown Arena.

The firm’s presentation, provided to The Chronicle, details six considered sites, with a Riverwatch Parkway site added in February and Regency added to the mix in May. The original four sites all are downtown – the existing James Brown Arena site, the existing arena parking lot, an upper Broad Street site between Broad Street and the Augusta Canal and a lower Broad Street site between Broad and Reynolds streets, adjacent to the city’s proposed depot redevelopment project.

Initially ranked highest at 87 out of 100 points, the upper Broad site included a bridge over the canal for visitors to access additional parking. Discussions with Augusta Canal Authority revealed that a planned savings of some $250,000 through the use of canal-driven hydropower weren’t an option, authority Vice Chairman Brad Usry said.

It was then that the second-highest-ranked site, the existing arena location with 79 out of 100 points, became the firm’s Aug. 17 recommendation to the committee. The new arena would sit on the current arena site with administrative and other structures connecting it to the Bell Auditorium. The firm backed up its choice with a site analysis detailing existing parking, restaurants and events venues.

A majority of Augusta commission members – those with districts touching south Augusta, to which Davis said the arena will spark development – support the mayor’s plan. But sensing a lack of action on Regency’s behalf, Commissioner Marion Williams said he is calling instead to condemn the mall property in an earlier commission committee meeting Tuesday.

Williams said he came up with the idea independently after realizing “we’re not going anywhere” with the current proposal from Regency. The firm is “robbing us with a gun” presently by paying taxes on a value lower than they’re asking from prospective buyers, he said.

“This ought to help them negotiate,” Williams said. “If they’re going to play ball they’ve got to start playing.”

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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