Originally created 10/07/04

Arena plans may be revised



Augusta Commissioners are trying to revive Augusta Entertainment's arena plan at Regency Mall with their version of CPR - another meeting and another vote.

A day after the $88 million sports and entertainment arena was pronounced dead when Augusta commissioners failed to reach an agreement with the group behind the proposed project, commissioners were attempting to breathe new life into it and stop talk of the project moving to Columbia County.

Commissioner Don Grantham said Tuesday's vote that failed to approve agreements with Augusta Entertainment LLC and Dickerson Entertainment Development Corp., the group wanting to develop a $33.9 million amphitheater at Diamond Lakes Park, could be revisited.

Both of the projects are on the November ballot as part of the special purpose local option sales tax package.

"We can bring it up again if we so desire, and that just may happen," Mr. Grantham said Wednesday. "And I'm in hopes we may have a full body of the commission there, and we may have a difference in the vote."

Commissioner Barbara Sims, who has voiced support for the arena, was not at Tuesday's meeting because she was out of town with her husband, Fred, who is recuperating from surgery. Her vote for the agreement would have been the sixth, the number required to pass any commission motion.

Commissioner Andy Cheek said the projects' most vocal critic, Mayor Pro Tem Willie Mays, had suggested Tuesday night after the meeting that a called commission meeting could reconsider the agreements that specify how the facilities will be developed and operated.

Mr. Cheek said he planned to ask Mayor Bob Young to call a meeting an hour before next Monday's regular committee meetings.

"If Barbara was there, we've got six votes we need for the arena," he said.

"Whether you like the civic arena or not, we've got $380 million worth of other things (on the tax ballot) that we can't afford to lose."

Mr. Cheek was so perturbed by the events of Tuesday's meeting that he left a discussion saying, "I refuse to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic."

Meanwhile, Paul Simon, spokesman for Augusta Entertainment, questioned whether it would be worth going back before the commission and facing "the same problems."

"We're evaluating that now and will make a decision in the next day or two," he said.

Mr. Simon's group has gone before the commission at least a half-dozen times this year and after sitting for hours has either not been heard or insulted by Mr. Mays and Commissioner Marion Williams.

On Tuesday, Mr. Mays filibustered the arena agreement issue and accused Augusta Entertainment of trying to rob the city.

Augusta Entertainment is owned in part by William S. Morris III, the chairman and chief executive officer of Morris Communications Co., the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle.

The arena and amphitheater are part of a $486 million tax package that will go before voters in November. They are listed as separate ballot questions, apart from the main question of infrastructure, recreation, public facility and community projects. If the projects are approved without agreements, the city would have to build them and contract with a company to operate them or operate them themselves.

"I would hope we've got people on the commission who wouldn't let that happen, but that's possible," Mr. Simon said. "That's the reason we've been working so hard to get the agreement passed so that the public would know there were professional and business people building it and operating it. Without a memorandum of understanding, if it passes the county can set it up as they wish."

Mr. Grantham said he has asked city attorney Stephen Shepard to research whether the commission could rescind the entire $486 million tax resolution. That would allow them to revisit the tax package in a special election in March instead of waiting until next November if the current package is rejected by voters.

"I've also asked counsel to see if we could rescind the resolution for the whole ballot," Mr. Grantham said.

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