Editorial: It’s my way or Gordon Highway?

Time for mayor to be open to other ideas on arena, mall site

How can so many things be going so right in Augusta, and yet our politics be going so thoroughly wrong?

 

The mayor who once claimed there is “One Augusta” is now dividing the community by geography, class and perhaps race, while holding the 10-member Augusta Commission hostage to his obsessive whim to build an arena at the former Regency Mall on Gordon Highway in a quixotic quest to remake the area in his image.

For the second time in as many weeks, the commission rejected the idea handily Tuesday. At 7-3, the perfunctory proposal with precious few facts to favor it earned two more yes votes this week than in its 7-1 defeat two weeks ago, but only because two more people were voting.

And still Commissioner Marion Williams is hoping after the holidays to revisit the discredited proposition – that an entire region surrounding a 1970s-era mall that died a slow death long ago “due to crime and security problems, a poor location” and economics, as Wikipedia puts it, can somehow be revived by an arena whose lights go on just dozens of nights a year.

It’s a pipe dream unsupported by any empirical analysis or even anecdotal evidence from around the country, and which has been rejected by professional consultants hired by the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority. Yet Mayor Hardie Davis is singlemindedly eating up the political calendar, and spitting out his own remaining political capital chasing this parked car.

In the process, the “One Augusta” mayor is opening fissures in the community, bitterly dredging up laments that, by choosing a more viable downtown location for a new arena, Augusta would be neglecting “individuals who are born in impoverished conditions, who grow up in impoverished conditions and who ultimately die in impoverished conditions because our city has talked, talked, and talked about what should happen…”

As if an occasional concert nearby will change all that!

The sad irony is, were it not for the divisive, imperious, sometimes secretive machinations of the mayor and others fanatically foisting the proposal on an unwilling public body – not to mention the public – they would undoubtedly find interested developers and eager partners excited to explore other possibilities for the mall site and south Augusta.

There’s no legitimate reason to believe a once-or-twice-a-week arena could entice restaurant and retail development that’s not already present to suddenly pop up in the hopes of catching a fraction of an audience attending 60 or 70 events a year. It’s just not economically feasible, and it’s not going to happen.

You can’t look at a lawn where the grass is healthier on one side and simply impel it to grow on the other out of a fervent desire for fairness. The best you can do is seed the ground and allow nature to take its course.

Nor is an arena the only conceivable use for the old mall property. In fact, it’s light years from the highest and best use of it.

If the mayor and others want what’s best for the area – and not just what they want for the area – they’ll accept this outcome, stop trying to impose their will on the community, and reach out and open up to the complete range of development options.

Does it really have to be my way or Gordon Highway?

 

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