The puck drops on the Southern Professional Hockey League season in four arenas Friday, but James Brown Arena will remain empty and without ice.
The May 14 announcement that the Augusta RiverHawks would not play this season means fans are left without hockey in the area.
The RiverHawks are still waiting for possible compensation of lost revenue from the eight games moved last season after the arena’s ice melted. The team was forced to play its final eight home games at Augusta Ice Sports Center, limiting attendance to season-ticket holders and sponsors.
After waiting for months, RiverHawks owner Bob Kerzner said he and Global Spectrum, which manages the arena, are moving to a legal process to find a resolution for compensation.
“We’re taking steps right now with our attorney,” Kerzner said. “I wish we hadn’t gotten to this. I was hoping they’d do the right thing and they chose not to. They never contacted us.”
Kerzner said the city didn’t stay in contact with him regarding the situation.
“They kept us in the dark through the whole thing,” he said. “Nothing about fixing the ice, nothing about reimbursing us for the last eight games.”
Ed Enoch, the attorney who represents the coliseum authority, said a request was submitted and forwarded to Global Spectrum to see if the insurance claim for the broken ice system covered the lost revenue for the RiverHawks. Enoch said he wasn’t aware of the communication between the team and Global Spectrum beyond that.
Arena general manager Monty Jones Jr. said he could not discuss the matter because it is now in a legal process. Attempts to contact Global Spectrum’s Business Development Headquarters in Connecticut were referred back to Jones.
Kerzner said he has looked into moving his remaining equipment out of the arena. In the meantime, he has had talks with other locations on possibly moving the team, including Columbia County and Savannah, noting that he would like to remain in the area.
“We’d be more than happy to go (to Columbia County),” he said. “Our track record shows we’d be excellent tenants for them.”
Ron Cross, the chairman of the Columbia County Commission, said an arena in the county isn’t feasible right now.
“I don’t think the county is big enough,” he said. “It hasn’t been brought up recently, and I don’t think it’s something we can tackle right now.”
While Kerzner seeks a potential home for the RiverHawks – he retained the franchise despite not playing this season – he continues to wait for a result to a possible compensation process that has stretched to five months since the team’s announcement of not playing. He said there is no timetable.
For fans, they are left without an area team to support for the second time in recent years after the Lynx also left Augusta in 2009. Fans of the RiverHawks remain in limbo as the team attempts to find a home.
Sophia Sgalato, an eighth-grader at Grovetown Middle School, wrote a class essay arguing for the RiverHawks to return. As a season-ticket holder, Sgalato said she wanted to use the opportunity to express her feelings on the team.
“I got to meet a lot of the players,” she said. “It was something fun to do to go to games. The players and fans had a connection to the community.”
Sgalato summed up her thoughts with a sentence in the essay that echoes the feelings of many hockey fans in Augusta.
“I believe Augusta should bring back the RiverHawks because it’s affordable, they support the community, and it’s a great source of live entertainment.”