Originally created 10/06/04

Group will pitch arena plan elsewhere



Augusta Entertainment is through with Richmond County and is ready to head west.

On Tuesday night, after a protracted battle, Paul Simon, the spokesman for the group behind the proposed $88 million sports and entertainment arena in south Augusta, said "there's no hope."

He made the comment after commissioners failed once again to reach an agreement with the group on the development and operation of the facility.

The commissioners also couldn't pull together the six votes to reach an agreement with Dickerson Entertainment Development Corp., the group that spearheaded developing a $33.9 million amphitheater at Diamond Lakes Regional Park. Both the arena and the amphitheater projects are on the November ballot - part of the special purpose local option sales tax package.

Richmond County's loss may be Columbia County's gain, and an arena is something that has been discussed in the business sector, according to Gordon Renshaw, the executive director of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.

"Are we ready for an arena? A lot of businesses say we are," he said late Tuesday. "If Columbia County can be the solution, that's something we'd certainly support investigating."

The motions to approve the agreements failed 5-3 on Tuesday, with one abstention and one member absent.

The vote came after four hours of discussion dominated by Mayor Pro Tem Willie Mays, who characterized Augusta Entertainment's plan as a robbery without a mask and gun.

Commissioners Tommy Boyles, Andy Cheek, Don Grantham, Jimmy Smith and Bobby Hankerson voted to approve the agreements that would have allowed the corporations to proceed with developing plans and contracts for building the facilities.

Mr. Mays, Betty Beard and Marion Williams voted no. Richard Colclough abstained, and Barbara Sims was absent.

After the vote, Mr. Simon said he hoped the corporation could move the arena to Columbia County.

"As far as we're concerned, we're out," he said. "They were not forthcoming. They could have stepped up to the plate months ago.

"With this kind of situation, Augusta is just going to continue to deteriorate."

And Mr. Simon took exception to Mr. Mays' attacks.

"We've put a plan together. We think it's a good thing for the community," he said.

Mr. Mays also accused Augusta Entertainment of trying to pressure the commission by suggesting the corporation wouldn't support the $486 million sales tax package unless the commission approved the agreement.

Mr. Simon has told commissioners that once the agreement was approved a marketing firm the corporation has hired would help the commission sell the tax package.

Mr. Simon said that without the agreement, Augusta Entertainment would have no incentive to sell the tax, because if voters approved the arena with no agreement in place, the government could set up any kind of agency to develop the arena or run it themselves, which could end up like the current Civic Center with few shows.

Mr. Simon attempted to allay Mr. Mays' concerns by explaining that the agreement, known as a memorandum of understanding, was not a legally binding document, but merely spelled out the corporation's intent, from which nine or 10 contracts would have to be hammered out. And the commission would have say-so in that process.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.