One member of the coliseum authority who supported building a new arena at Regency Mall said Tuesday’s Augusta Commission vote to reject the site has changed her mind, making it more unlikely the proposal will happen.
Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority member Linda Edney-Wiley stayed to the very end of the tumultuous commission meeting, when Mayor Hardie Davis attempted to adjourn before the panel could vote to reject a proposal to build at the vacant mall site.
Davis’ negotiations with mall owner Cardinal Management gave rise to the proposal, which the commission rejected by a 7-1 vote after Davis broke an earlier tie to approve the mall location and extend negotiations for 45 days. Commissioner Ben Hasan later said he’d voted for the earlier motion in error.
“I stayed for the whole thing,” Edney-Wiley said. “I was in favor of Regency; I went there with the intention of it being Regency, but their vote was not in alignment with mine.
“The commissioners spoke and we just have to accept it. We may not like it, but it’s time to move on,” she said.
Edney-Wiley would join Coliseum Authority Vice Chairman Brad Usry and member John Kelley, shifting support for the mall location from previous 4-2 votes to a 3-3 tie. That would allow Chairman Cedric Johnson, a proponent of keeping the arena downtown, to break the tie.
Usry, who has been outspoken about his preference for the current site downtown, was jubilant the morning after the commission vote.
“It’s amazing the positive reaction the community had to the commission vote,” he said. “I bet I had 20 phone calls this morning saying, ‘I’m glad you got this over with.’”
The coliseum authority has no scheduled meeting in December to vote on rescinding its earlier selection of Regency or proceed with a different site, such as at the current James Brown Arena on Seventh Street.
Authority member Bonita Jenkins, who voted for the Regency location, said she expected authority attorney Ed Enoch to advise members whether the commission vote requires them to drop the mall site.
Jenkins said she’d hoped the commission would give the authority more time to negotiate with Cardinal.
“I firmly think the Regency Mall is a good site because of the land,” she said. “We wanted them to vote on the location and then get a negotiation team to deal with that (Cardinal) family.”
Jenkins said she remains concerned about closing James Brown Arena for any length of time to demolish and rebuild, forcing scheduled events to move and losing the arena’s growing showcase of popular shows.
“I’m opposed to tearing it down and stopping the momentum,” she said.
Member Darren Smith, who led the charge to build at Regency, did not return a call seeking comment.
Enoch said the commission has no legal power to direct the authority – an entity created by an act of the state Legislature – regarding “any aspect of building, owning or managing an arena,” though he likely won’t give the authority legal advice until its next meeting Jan. 23.
But Enoch said the commission might have leverage over the authority, though, as it “holds the key to funding any new arena” and appoints its members, other than the chair, who is appointed by legislators.
Commission candidate David Dunagan filed a complaint with the Georgia attorney general’s office earlier this week alleging that the authority met illegally behind closed doors with four commissioners last week. Dunagan said he’s awaiting the office’s response after it obtains feedback from Enoch about the meeting.
Dunagan, who opposes the Regency site, said he won’t drop his complaint.
“Even with what happened yesterday, I don’t think the Regency Mall proposal is dead,” he said. “I think it’s going to be ongoing.”
Authority member Booker T. Roberson, who supported the Regency location, said he saw confusion at Tuesday’s commission meeting and division in the community over the issue.
“It’s like it’s dividing the community,” Roberson said. “It should be left up to the people; let the people vote on it. That will solve everything.”
The authority might have an opportunity to continue negotiations. Commissioner Marion Williams, who made the substitute commission motion Tuesday to approve the mall location and extend negotiations for 45 days, said he’s already put the motion back on the Dec. 19 commission meeting agenda.