After months of squabbling over the future site of the new James Brown Arena, it appears the Augusta Commission is actually going to let voters have a say in the final decision.
This week, commissioners voted 9-0 to ask both the Republican and Democratic parties to place non-binding questions on the May 22 ballot regarding the future site of the $120 million arena.
Voters will be asked whether they support building the new arena at the former Regency Mall site or if they support building the new structure at the existing James Brown Arena site.
The non-binding questions will be written in a manner that allows voters to select yes or no regarding either location, commissioners said.
While the results of the ballot won’t obligate the city to build the $120 million arena, it will at least allow commissioners to get a good sense as to how the residents really feel about the project and its future location.
This move is definitely a step in the right direction.
Instead of commissioners and coliseum authority members dueling over the future location of the arena, the voters and the taxpayers of Augusta-Richmond County will get to voice their opinions.
“Let the people decide what site to choose,” Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis said. “I think that is an outstanding idea. There is an election coming up in May. This could be put on the ballot. I think that is something that I, certainly, am not afraid of. I would encourage that.”
Imagine that? Letting the citizens have a say.
Now, it’s up to the people to get serious about the May 22 election.
And while the mayor says he’s all for putting the arena question on the ballot, it could be a very risky proposition.
If another candidate, who happens to be a supporter of the downtown arena, decides to run for mayor, the turnout will likely be much higher throughout Augusta-Richmond County for the May 22 election.
Supporters of the mayor and the arena in south Augusta could swamp the polls on Election Day. However, those who want to keep the James Brown Arena downtown could also come out in full force.
If they have another option for mayor on the ballot, that might also spell bad news for Davis.
But regardless of the consequences, the Augusta Commission and the mayor made a smart move this week.
The people of Augusta can decide on the future arena site.
If the downtown supporters don’t show up at the polls, it’s their fault.
If supporters of the Regency Mall site fail to turn out, it’s on them.
This is how democracy works, folks.
Augusta is a city that is made up of people, not politicians.
The people should decide.
You know why the Insider is so certain about putting the questions about the arena on the ballot?
All you have to do is listen to the commissioners talk about the James Brown Arena and the Regency Mall site to know that they are completely out of touch with current concerts and the entertainment industry.
Just check out the comments from Super District 10 Commissioner Grady Smith about the arena:
“I won’t be going to any of that stuff anyway,” Smith said about concerts and shows at the future arena. “By the time they get it through, I’ll be in my mid-70s. So, let the millennial folks take a pick (about the location). They will be paying for it, and they’ll be the ones who will be going to see Prince and all the rest of those guys.”
The commission chambers immediately erupted in laughter.
“Oh, that’s right. I’m sorry,” Smith said, chuckling as someone whispered to him that Prince had died in 2016. “I don’t keep up with it.”
All of sudden it was like your sweet ol’ grandpa trying to talk about popular artists like Lorde, Kendrick Lamar or Kesha.
Unfortunately, Smith continued talking. It was cute, but showed exactly how much assistance the Augusta Commission really needs in making this decision about the future arena.
“I watched the half-time show the other day, and it is just a different world now,” Smith said. “Now, I know how my daddy was, when James Brown was singing in my bedroom, he would come back to there and say, ‘Turn that music off!’ It was always up as loud as it would go. That radio would be jumping on the desk.”
But it didn’t stop there. Several Augusta commissioners including Bill Fennoy, Marion Williams, Andrew Jefferson and Sammie Sias all insisted that the former Regency Mall site was a great location for the new arena.
They all just had a problem with the mall owner’s proposal.
“I have got no problem moving to another site if somebody can show me another site,” Williams said. “Can somebody give me a good explanation as to why it is not a good site? I may be able to change my views and my outlook on it.”
Williams said the Regency Mall location was “perfect” for the new arena.
“The infrastructure is there, the roadway is there, the egress is there, the room is there,” he said. “Everything is there.”
Sias agreed that he supported the location, but the proposal by the mall owner, Alan Cardinale of Cardinal Management, was ridiculous.
“I actually thought Regency Mall was a good site,” Sias said. “However, I have never, ever consented to the deal that’s been presented. And I will not. It has to be a deal that makes sense for the taxpayers of the city of Augusta … This deal is a rip-off for the citizens and the taxpayers of Augusta-Richmond County.”
And while Sias said he fully supported allowing the citizens to vote about the future location of the arena, he wisely pointed out that the arena won’t be built anywhere unless it is a reasonable financial proposition for taxpayers.
“We still have to get a deal,” Sias said. “Let’s not fool anybody, now.”
So, voters need to make sure they head to the polls on May 22 and voice their opinions about the arena.
The Augusta Commission needs to know where we all stand.