Editorial: Getting back on track

Augusta Commission can de-politicize, rectify arena site selection

SPECIAL The debate over where to locate a replacement for the existing James Brown Arena, pictured here, has become derailed by politics. The Augusta Commission can get it back on track Tuesday.

It’s amazing, and more than a little horrifying, that a mayor with no vote and arguably less actual power than a meter maid could inch this community within a few votes of a multimillion-dollar disaster.

 

But that’s where Augusta finds itself on Tuesday.

After the Coliseum Authority’s mostly clandestine and hastily approved 4-2 vote last week to approve building a new James Brown Arena at the lonely site of the forlorn and moribund Regency Mall, the Augusta Commission is expected to pass judgment on the proposal at its meeting Tuesday.

It would, indeed, be a multimillion-dollar mistake.

Supporters of the proposal, led by Mayor Hardie Davis, contend that if you build it they will come — restaurants, shops and more. In fact, Regency Mall owner Cardinal Management seems poised to act as landlord for the bevy of retail that is, in the minds of supporters, sure to descend on the site.

Of course, common sense alone tells you that won’t happen — that no retail establishment is going to pin its fortunes on an arena hosting 60 or 70 events a year.

And then there’s the consultant that the Coliseum Authority hired to recommend a site. Said consultant did not recommend Regency Mall; rather, the recommendation of the experts was to build the new arena downtown, where restaurants, shops, hotels, sidewalks, parking garages and other amenities are already located.

Yet, four members of the authority voted in August to pursue the mall site, with nary a written proposal or rendering. Last week, the authority voted again 4-2 to proceed with the little-vetted proposal.

Pray the Augusta Commission has the chutzpah to stop this runaway train on Tuesday. But know this: Any public official who helps approve this disaster-in-the-making should have his or her name etched on a plaque at the site when it fails and costs taxpayers $110 million or more.

With the explosion in cyber-related jobs and industry coming to downtown Augusta and the entire region, the local economy is on the cusp of breaking out like never before. What a monumental miscalculation it would be for our public officials to throw away all that momentum, as well as millions of tax dollars, on what is clearly a boondoggle.

Augusta commissioners are now like the backup quarterback coming into the game with a huge lead — whose only job is to not blow it.

Commissioners, don’t blow Augusta’s lead. Vote down this ill-considered proposal that goes contrary to expert opinion and every bit of common sense.

A new arena — which, in truth, will undoubtedly end up costing more than $110 million — will be one of this city’s biggest single projects in its history. We’d better have all our ducks in a row.

This last-minute flirtation with Regency Mall — with scant-to-no financials, and no feasibility study, and after the Coliseum Authority had earlier studied it and passed on the site — has only divided the community and derailed an otherwise meticulous, well-thought-out process to find the best site for a new arena. Which is clearly downtown.

It’s up to Augusta commissioners on Tuesday to quickly dispatch with the ill-conceived proposal and allow the site-selection process to get back on track, absent the bald insider politics that sidetracked it.

We’re confident that not only will a beautiful new downtown arena compliment and feed off the restaurant, retail and hotel amenities already present and growing there, but that a different solution can and will be found for the Regency Mall site. We’d wager that the mall’s owners will find a development community in Augusta more than eager to work with them on a future for that site that, in fact, will have a much greater chance of inspiring even more growth along the Gordon Highway corridor.

This entire exercise, as regrettable as it’s been, has at least served to elevate south Augusta in the public discussion. And as the mayor has been heard to say on occasion, there is only “one Augusta.” If one area of this great city is in need of something, such as development or redevelopment, we all want it.

Whatever that looks like for Regency Mall, it needs to be a collaborative, transparent process that brings the community together rather than dividing it. We’re all in this together, and it’s time we act like it.

That needs to start on Tuesday.

 

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