Mayor Hardie Davis only allowed Rotary Club of Augusta one question before a driver ushered him away Monday to another engagement, but it was a doozy.
Given the 40 years it has taken downtown Augusta to revive, combined with Regency Mall’s failed Enterprise Zone, nearby flood risks and area criminal activity, “how in your right mind is it possible for you to consider that site?” member Billy Franke asked.
“You hear me talk about something, I know what I’m talking about,” Davis responded.
It was a point he’d raised earlier in his speech about his and owner Alan Cardinale’s proposal to build an arena at Regency Mall. “I’ve done my due diligence - I know what I’m talking about,” he’d said.
Davis did not elaborate on his research but cited the city’s effort to locate a new Augusta Public Transit building at an adjacent Regency tract and the unused option of using a Tax Allocation District, which pays property tax increments gained from redevelopment back to developers, at the mall site.
Davis spent much of his Monday speech describing other developments around Augusta, including one he called “the largest single project in the history of downtown,” before addressing the proposal to build the city’s new civic center on privately-owned property six miles from downtown at the vacant Regency Mall.
The proposal was addressed to Davis from mall owner Alan Cardinale and in the hand of Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum member Darren Smith when Smith and three other authority members voted in August to build a $110 million-plus arena at the site.
Details of the evolving proposal have remained limited, and last week five Augusta commissioners walked out of a closed-door meeting with Davis rather than discuss it. Newest details include the authority providing low-interest financing to Cardinale to redevelop property around the arena, upgrading and maintaining all parking, and giving Cardinale a lengthy tax abatement.
The mayor, up for re-election in May, continued that he did not anticipate the “conversation” about the arena proposal to be as “very painful” as it has been.
“I did not know,” Davis said, “I would be 48 years old and on the verge of being martyred in my own city.
“And I would be written about for 60 days in both The Augusta Chronicle and the Metro Spirit, not twice but sometimes three times a week,” he said.
Davis also addressed a Friday television interview in which he stated, according to the taped interview, the coliseum authority had not paid sports arena architect Sink Combs Dethlefs to perform an arena site study.
The study, results of which have been widely publicized, scored the existing James Brown Arena site downtown the highest for a new arena.
“$140,000 that’s been spent on a study that does not exist,” Davis said in the interview. “The reality of it is, and I think the authority members know, this study has not been done.”
Davis said Monday he was not referring to the actual study, but a “site-specific study,” that did not exist.
“When we have these big issues that turn divisive,” he concluded, “remind ourselves that just like the good Texans in (Sutherland) Springs, they were church members together; they stood together in that church; may we also stand together.”
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.