It’s like a terrible nightmare that Augusta can’t escape.
The chaos that occurred this week down at the Augusta Commission regarding the proposal of a new arena at the former Regency Mall location would be laughable if it wasn’t such a serious decision that could cost taxpayers more than $120 million.
Let’s first explain that, in the end, the Augusta Commission voted 7-1 to reject Cardinal Management’s current proposal that would allow the construction of the new arena on the Regency Mall location.
But don’t take a deep sigh of relief yet, folks.
This battle is far from over.
If it had not been for the confusion of one commissioner, Ben Hasan, and his request for reconsideration of an original vote, Augusta would be sitting down at the table preparing to negotiate with Cardinal Management.
You’re not alone.
Here is what happened:
Despite very vocal concerns made by several Augusta commissioners last week who felt that continuing to negotiate with the owners of the former Regency Mall site was like talking to a brick wall, five commissioners apparently decided to continue to bash their heads into that very same wall.
To the complete and utter disbelief of many residents throughout Richmond County, the Augusta Commission initially voted 5-5, with Mayor Hardie Davis breaking the tie, to approve the former Regency Mall location as the site for the new $120 million arena.
Augusta commissioners Marion Williams, Andrew Jefferson, Bill Fennoy, Sammie Sias and Ben Hasan supported the motion.
Commissioners Mary Davis, Dennis Williams, Sean Frantom, Grady Smith and Wayne Guilfoyle voted against the location.
However, there was a mistake in the vote.
Hasan insists he did not intend to vote for motion.
“I made a serious mistake, and I didn’t realize it until 30 minutes later,” Hasan said. “I didn’t intend to vote in support of that motion. But I got turned around.”
When Hasan realized his mistake, he knew he must correct it.
“The mayor tried to shut down the meeting when we asked for reconsideration, but enough commissioners stayed and the mayor pro tem (Mary Davis) was going to conduct the meeting,” Hasan said. “With that, the mayor came back and he got a ruling from the attorney. The attorney said the majority of the commission could reconsider the motion. Then, the mayor did another sidebar because he was stalling. He didn’t want us to reconsider. But we voted to reconsider and then we voted to reject the offer and we came back 7-1. So we rejected the offer.”
Needless to say, that wasn’t the ending Mayor Davis was hoping to have on Tuesday, Nov. 5, which happened to be his birthday.
Davis was so close to getting his birthday wish of an arena at the Regency Mall site, but he was denied the prize at the end of the day.
Maybe karma played a role considering the mayor had no qualms undermining the entire selection process by the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority over the past few months and used a political coup to try to get his way.
And he almost achieved his goal.
Earlier in the day, commissioners voted to allow 45 calendar days to determine a funding source for the project and establish a committee to oversee negotiations with the mall’s owners.
However, many people don’t believe this is the end of the story.
Several commissioners will likely still try to bring back this deal.
We’ll see how far it gets.
“This has been a very, I won’t say tough, but contentious issue since this process has been in motion,” Augusta Commissioner Sammie Sias said. “There are several things that concern me about this process itself.”
Sias said he was willing to still consider the Regency Mall site if Cardinal Management would present a fair deal.
“For me, this was not about showcasing. This was not about grandstanding. This was about what’s best for Augusta, and we are all continuing to look forward to development in south Augusta,” Sias said. “I don’t have any political fears about doing the right thing.”
Whatever comes before the commission, Sias said he is committed to doing what is best for the entire city.
“This deal that is presently on the table is not a good deal. It is not a good deal for the city of Augusta,” Sias said. “I was very excited about the opportunity of something coming to south Augusta. I represent Augusta and I live in south Augusta and I am a proud Augustan.”
Mayor Pro Tem Mary Davis said the development of the new arena was an important decision that should be based on facts, not emotion.
“The whole community is looking to see where we are going to move today, and I know we’ve gone back to the table — not we as the commission — but the negotiations have,” Davis said. “Personally, I don’t have faith that the negotiations will move in a positive way for the city as it pertains to the arena (at Regency Mall). That’s my personal opinion.”
Mary Davis said she wants south Augusta and the Regency Mall site to succeed, but she doesn’t believe the new $120 million arena should be built at that location.
“We all want something to be developed in a positive fashion there,” she said, referring to the Regency Mall site. “Personally, I just don’t believe that it’s taking the arena from one place and putting it in that location.”