Originally created 03/31/04

Arena might open in fall 2006



If all goes as planners hope, a sports and entertainment center - to be named Southgate Arena - could be opened at the Regency Mall area as early as fall 2006, it was announced Tuesday night.

Details of the proposed project were presented at a Pride and Progress of Augusta-Richmond County meeting by Paul Simon, a board member of Augusta Entertainment LLC, which is undertaking the project.

Mr. Simon told a packed meeting room that a memorandum of agreement between Augusta Entertainment and the city would be needed first.

Then, the Augusta Commission would have to bundle the arena idea with other projects and place it before voters as a possible sales tax project. A total of $60 million in sales tax money has been called for by a citizens sales tax committee.

Mr. Simon said that if that process proceeds smoothly, a ground-breaking could happen as early as November and a completion could follow by fall 2006.

"Oh, good!" said Don Potrafka, who lives near Regency Mall, after hearing the timetable. Mr. Potrafka said he is for the idea and would vote in favor of sales tax money for it.

Details about the arena were well received by others at the meeting.

"I think it's fabulous," said Mary Corbitt, who owns the business Fashion Plate in Surrey Center, noting that the arena would be a boost to businesses. "What they're saying makes sense to me. We intend on buying a share."

Mr. Simon said the arena concept would be a private-public partnership.

His company filed a document with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, which, once approved, would allow the public to begin investing money in the idea. He said that document could be approved in 30 days.

He said the name Southgate Arena could be changed if a company wanted to buy the naming rights, as Colonial Life did with the Colonial Center at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

The overall plan, he explained, would be to build an arena large enough to attract big entertainment events and offer Augusta Lynx games. The project will need $85 million for the arena plus $9 million for improvements to the area.

"We think this project can really do a lot for Augusta," Mr. Simon said.

After his presentation, residents asked how much support commissioners are giving to the idea.

Commissioners at the meeting - Jimmy Smith, Bobby Hankerson and Don Grantham - said they are in favor of the arena being at Regency Mall.

"We've got three votes in the room tonight," said Mr. Smith, followed by applause from residents.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904

or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.