Discussion is neither serious nor ‘community’

So far, the decision on an arena site is elitist, secretive

Regency Mall owners last week were said to be impressed with the “serious” community conversation going on about a new arena here, possibly at the site of the vacant shopping center.

 

We’d be more excited too – if that conversation actually involved the community!

Instead, mall owners came to town to meet with only selected, presumably agreeable, members of the Augusta Commission, excluding others.

This, after the Coliseum Authority had recently voted 4-2 to build the new arena at the mall site on Gordon Highway – abandoning an established and increasingly vibrant downtown market – without so much as a “look out!” either for the public or even some members of the authority itself.

The proposal for the mall site, which was only marginally outlined in a letter from the mall owners, wasn’t even tendered to the authority members prior to the vote. And details of the proposal, even weeks later, are sketchy and closely held by the privileged class, which includes most notably Mayor Hardie Davis.

There’s been no effort to persuade or even inform either leading stakeholders here or the general public. The approach seems to be, “It’s a great idea, we’ve got the votes, let’s go.” Never mind the part about bringing the rest of the community along.

Do these folks want the community to support the building of the arena, or support it with our ticket purchases once it opens? If so, shouldn’t we be part of the decision-making process?

It strains the imagination to witness how imperiously this is being handled. It’s nothing but an outrage. Is this arena going to be posed to us or imposed on us?

This newspaper supports the building of a new sports and entertainment arena to replace the James Brown Arena, nearly half a century old. Augusta deserves an arena that brings us into the 21st century. But transporting it to Gordon Highway – where the infrastructure of restaurants, hotels and pedestrian-friendly walkways simply does not and will not exist – would be a monumental mistake.

It’s a mistake that the people of Augusta will apparently have no say in preventing.

It’s also a mistake that the experts saw coming. Consultants hired by the Coliseum Authority – at a cost to taxpayers of $142,000 – researched every conceivable location here, and regarded the mall site as coming in no better than third on the list of possibilities.

The consultants recommended the current location – which not only makes use of downtown’s amenities, but also keeps the arena near its sister facility, Bell Auditorium. Separating the two will increase both costs and logistical headaches for Spectra, the company managing both.

To add insult to that potential injury, the community and some of its key leaders are being locked out of the decision-making process.

If the mall site is such a stellar idea, then why is the deliberation so elitist and secretive?

You call that a serious community discussion?

It’s neither serious, nor does it involve the community.

 

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