There were signs of life Monday at Augusta’s dead mall as city leaders broke ground on an $18 million transit facility but thoughts of building an arena at Regency weren’t far from Mayor Hardie Davis’ mind.
The crowd applauded as a Thompson Wrecking excavator pulled the sign off the former Regency Theater, a city-owned parcel just behind the mall where the state-of-the-art Augusta Public Transit operations and maintenance facility is being built.
The approximately 32,000-square-foot facility “puts us in a position where we can handle growth for the next few decades,” said State Bank and Trust Vice President James Heffner, who served as master of ceremonies.
Commissioner Andrew Jefferson, who represents the mall area, said he hoped the facility raises the profile of Augusta Public Transit, so “when you think of buses, you don’t think of MARTA; you think of Augusta Public Transit as the premier transit system in Georgia.”
One of the city’s new green-and-brown buses was parked alongside the demolition site.
“We’re showing the community that we’re concerned about all of Augusta,” Commissioner Dennis Williams said. “With a few more years and a few more dollars, we’re going to have a very good transit system throughout the city.”
The facility will feature two buildings – one for operations, maintenance and administration and a second for servicing such as fueling and cleaning.
Davis said the investment of city and federal transit dollars at the Gordon Highway location showed “that this part of Augusta matters as well.”
It may soon become Augusta’s first intermodal transit facility, the mayor said, as a possible hub for rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft to connect with transit passengers.
With the Augusta Commission setting a Thursday deadline for the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority to conclude negotiations begun by Davis with mall owner Alan Cardinale, the mayor didn’t mince words Monday, calling a report compiled by Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle that is critical of the project’s anticipated finances “a red herring.”
Davis initiated conversations with the Cardinale family earlier this year that led to the authority voting 4-2 to pick the mall site as its preferred location for a new arena. The authority has a regular meeting Tuesday at which it is expected to discuss the deal or attempt to meet the Thursday deadline.
Guilfoyle estimated under the demands Cardinale is making, Augusta will spend $16.5 million over 50 years on a triple-net lease of the property, $8.35 million on paving, $912,050 for lighting and $3 million for landscaping. In addition, Augusta will pay $10.5 million to finance $150 million in development for Cardinale and lose almost $16 million in ad valorem taxes under government financing and a 25-year abatement Cardinale wants with the deal.
Davis said like Augusta Municipal Building, the current James Brown Arena and Richmond County schools, a new arena would be “tax-exempt regardless,” but did not speak to the exemption for the adjoining city-financed development Cardinale wants with the deal.
Guilfoyle, who represents an area of south Augusta where building an arena at the mall is popular, said he compiled the report himself because it appeared no one else has done so.
“I needed numbers to proceed,” he said. “I don’t understand why there are no numbers, and if there (are), where are they?”
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.