Blocked from meeting privately with commissioners Tuesday and facing mounting criticism over a proposal to build an arena at Regency Mall, Mayor Hardie Davis took to Facebook to defend himself and raise expectations about the deal Wednesday.
In the 15-minute “5@5” video, one of an occasional series, Davis said building at the vacant mall site will “tie the city together” and “send a signal to our citizens that the entire city matters” in a way that hasn’t happened before.
“For two decades we have systematically excluded portions of our city from the economic prosperity of Augusta,” Davis said.
While the proposal has resonated with some voters and leadership south of Gordon Highway, it has drawn criticism from many for its shift away from the current site of James Brown Arena downtown, which a consultant’s study determined was the best option.
On Wednesday, prominent Augusta businessman Clay Boardman made public his criticism of the Regency plan, saying the resulting loss of attendees from North Augusta, Aiken County and Columbia County will begin a “death spiral” for the arena that could bankrupt the city.
If smart leadership in neighboring counties build an accessible arena it will “sweep the rug out of Augusta generally and downtown and District 1 specifically,” Boardman said. “An arena in Columbia County would gut downtown and further shift the center of gravity and population to the west.”
Davis held a closed-door meeting Tuesday with members of Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, which governs the arena, but five commissioners walked out. Several said they had no business participating in negotiations with the mall owner, which Davis has engaged in over the last few months.
In the video, Davis presents a sketch of an arena complex at Regency that includes a grassy amphitheater, an arena, office buildings, housing and other features. Authority and city officials said they had no idea who created the sketch, and a Davis staffer said a copy would not be available until next week. The mayor did not return a call seeking comment.
Davis reiterated in the video several terms provided by mall owner Alan Cardinale to authority members, but omitted a request by Cardinale for the authority to finance the firm’s redevelopment of surrounding mall property.
Cardinale is proposing to give 10 acres for the arena and lease 30 acres for parking, but receive a 25-year tax abatement on the surrounding property, Davis said. The abatement decision “is in the wheelhouse of the commission and the mayor,” he said.
Davis said a deal between the authority and Cardinale was imminent and should soon be transmitted to the commission for approval. He compared having a leased arena site to Augusta’s Pendleton King Park, which the city leases from a foundation created by its original owner.
Davis said it was “unfortunate” that critics have engaged in “very uncivil discourse” common when “people are afraid,” then denied any wrongdoing in negotiating with Cardinale.
“There’s nothing illegal that has been done on the mayor’s office, no back room conversations that have taken place,” Davis said.
Commissioners said they were unaware of the new sketch or what Davis was doing next with the arena.
“Mayor doing his own thing,” Commissioner Sean Frantom said.
“That’s the way he operates,” Commissioner Ben Hasan said.
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.