The floor of James Brown Arena remains only concrete, and when ice – and Augusta's professional hockey team – will return to the arena is still uncertain.
The system that cools the ice in the arena needs a complete replacement, and the Augusta RiverHawks are playing their remaining games this season at a smaller venue. The system originally cost $1 million to install when the Augusta Lynx began in 1998, according to The Augusta Chronicle’s records.
Arena management has not provided a timetable for figuring an official cost or providing details on the maintenance of the ice system, which failed when piping burst and caused the ice to melt. But Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority chairman Cedric Johnson said management, including arena general manager Monty Jones Jr., is working toward these details.
“They’re looking at all the options,” Johnson said. “I know Monty and others are looking to get people to give prices. It should be this month at some point, so we can have these details for our next meeting (March 26).”
Augusta RiverHawks owner Bob Kerzner said his team is stuck in wait-and-see mode, as the process for deciding to replace the system could last “for some time.” Kerzner said he believes the decision could go to the city, which has oversight on the arena.
Kerzner said the team can’t sign a contract with the arena unless there is ice on the floor. He also can’t tell the Southern Professional Hockey League the team is returning until that happens. The current lease ends at the end of the season, and the team remains in negotiations with arena officials on a new lease.
“It's obviously out of our hands at this point,” RiverHawks vice president Ken Vezina said. “I know everyone is trying to put something together that will work, and once it gets moving, it will move quick. But right now we're pretty much in the same boat as everyone else, just waiting.”
The RiverHawks have been forced to play the remainder of their home schedule at the Augusta Ice Sports Center after James Brown Arena’s ice melted last month.
The team initially rescheduled Feb. 28 and March 2 games for later dates, which was followed by the need to play four home games at the ice center. A day later, arena officials announced the remaining home schedule would be played at the ice center after it was discovered the system would require a full replacement.
The ice center’s limited space means seats are only going to season-ticket holders and corporate sponsors. The RiverHawks continue to lose revenue on lost individual ticket sales, although an estimate of the losses has not been provided.
The ice has received positive feedback from opposing teams, and the RiverHawks have made the most of the situation, allowing all season-ticket holders and sponsors to attend, as well as broadcasting games on America One.
“We’re just grateful that we have this backup ice so we can continue to have hockey this season,” booster club member Tawna Smith said. “It's been a little bit of shock; the owner is going to lose a lot of money, but we're grateful to have a backup.”