An Augusta Commission push to set a deadline for a deal on building an arena at Regency Mall has support although backers of the mall site are unfazed.
Several on the commission praised Commissioner Sammie Sias for including a motion for approval to give Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority until 11 p.m. Nov. 30 to reach an agreement with the mall’s owner or direct the authority to build elsewhere. The commission is scheduled to vote on the motion Tuesday.
“I’m happy that Sammie would be willing to go out on a limb to champion that effort,” Commissioner Sean Frantom said Friday.
Mayor Hardie Davis, citing the site’s location and highway access, revealed a plan in August with mall owner Alan Cardinale for Augusta to build a new James Brown Arena at the long-vacant mall site. The authority cited the deal when four of six members voted in favor of the Gordon Highway mall site, rather than a site selection committee’s choice to remain in downtown Augusta.
Since then, the plan has been sharply criticized by Augusta business leaders, and details remain scarce. The latest proposal provided to an Augusta Chronicle reporter had Cardinale giving Augusta a small part of the land in exchange for long-term tax abatements, parking maintenance, low-interest financing and the arena being built there.
Shortly before Sias’ motion became public Friday, coliseum authority member Darren Smith requested a called meeting of the authority Tuesday . Smith said it had support of all four members who originally backed the Regency location – himself, Booker Robertson, Bonita Jenkins and Linda Edney-Wiley.
Authority chairman Cedric Johnson, who with its vice chairman and another member opposed the site choice, quickly blocked the call to meet.
“You only checked with the authority members that supported your view. You conveniently left out John Kelly, Brad Usry and myself,” Johnson said. “This is a very important meeting and everyone should have the opportunity to participate.”
The meeting isn’t happening Tuesday, but no matter, Smith said. The authority can move forward with the plan at its next regular meeting Nov. 28, he said.
“I believe we’ve got information that we can move forward,” he said. “I certainly believe it’s addressed some of the concerns that we’ve heard in the community.”
The commissioner who represents the mall area, Andrew Jefferson, said he supports setting a deadline for the authority but isn’t sure when to set it.
“There should be a deadline because this thing can’t rock on forever,” Jefferson said. “I just think we should have a discussion on the length of the deadline, make sure we give them ample time.”
Commissioner Dennis Williams said it is time to move on from the Regency proposal.
“Based on what I’ve seen so far there’s nothing new in the last several weeks, so a recommendation needs to be made to move on with the process,” he said.
Commissioner Ben Hasan said he supported Sias’ motion for a Nov. 30 deadline. Commissioner Marion Williams opposed the deadline altogether.
“You can’t set a deadline on something that important,” Williams said. “I don’t understand even the motion being put out like that.”
Sias and Davis have not responded to requests for comment.
The Tuesday regular commission meeting has been rescheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. ahead of a 6:05 p.m. special called meeting necessary for the city to acquire land at 2649 Gordon Highway - almost six miles from the mall site – using eminent domain.
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