While the majority of Augusta commissioners once again voted to reject the former Regency Mall site as the future location for the proposed $120 million James Brown Arena this week, the issue is still not going away.
Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams has vowed to bring the proposed site back up for consideration within the next two weeks.
“We are going to see it again. I guarantee you,” Williams said, minutes before his colleagues voted 7-3 to reject the former Regency Mall site. “If we have to see it every week, we are going to see it.”
Augusta commissioners Bill Fennoy, Andrew Jefferson and Marion Williams were the only commissioners who voted in support of the former mall location.
But even though it was clear that the majority of commissioners didn’t support building the new arena at the Gordon Highway location, Williams said he was not going to let the proposal go.
Even when other commissioners suggested that they could look at other possibilities for the site, Williams said he wasn’t interested in considering other ideas.
“If this won’t go at that site, why would anything else go in that site?” Williams said. “Somebody needs to tell me why this wouldn’t work.”
But the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority did pay consultants $142,000 to review the proposed sites for the new arena. The study did not recommend the Regency Mall location, but Williams didn’t seem to want to consider the consultants’ report.
Instead, he said that the public was simply concentrating on the negatives associated with the proposed south Augusta location.
“I wish people would stop referring to it as Regency Mall,” Williams said. “The mall is dead. The mall is gone. That is just the location.”
Williams insisted that the public needs to concentrate on the project and the impact it could have on that entire Gordon Highway corridor.
“We are really going to have to do something on a large scale,” Williams said, pointing at the proposed sketches of the arena at the south Augusta site and comparing it to the GreenJackets stadium being built in North Augusta. “This is another part of Augusta that ought to be taking off and growing.”
Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis said he completely agreed with Williams’ feelings about the south Augusta location.
He said that the discussion over the Regency Mall site and the new arena have been “disappointing” and “uncivil” when it should have been viewed as an “opportunity.”
“I am an advocate for the Regency site. I believe it is an opportunity for Augusta to reconnect the city,” Davis said. “I have said that time after time after time. That if we are ever going to reconnect our city, this is our opportunity to do it. This is the location to do it at.”
So, in order to reconnect Richmond County, taxpayers have to spend $120 million at the Regency Mall location? That’s our only option?
Come on, mayor. Let’s get real.
And then, for a moment, he did.
“There is much debate about my handling of this,” Davis said, as he turned and looked at the Coliseum Authority Chairman Cedric Johnson. “I have acknowledged to Cedric Johnson that I could have had more discussions with him and handled this in a little more artful way. But I will not make any excuses or bones about the fact that I still support the site. I have lived in this community since 1985. And I have watched as this area of our community has been systematically excluded from the overall prosperity of our city.”
Suddenly, the mayor’s discussion turned into a debate over Augusta’s “haves and have nots.”
“Nothing has been done,” Davis said of south Augusta. “I have watched as I travel along Gordon Highway and I see Wayne Frazier frustrated because students who were attending the Alternative School on Bungalow Road walked across a dangerous highway and we did nothing.”
Then, talk to the Richmond County School Board, right? Go to the source and find a solution.
What does the Alternative School have to do with building a $120 million arena?
Davis then suggested that the community’s support of the James Brown Arena in the downtown area was not totally sincere.
“There was a point in time when this city wouldn’t even recognize James Brown, but now we come back to the place of ‘Save the J,’” the mayor said. “And that has bearing as well.”
It is time the city sincerely supports south Augusta and considers the arena project at the former Regency Mall location, the mayor said.
“Our city has talked, talked, talked and talked about what should happen, what could happen and has done nothing,” the mayor said.
In fact, he pointed to the vote two weeks ago that rejected the former Regency Mall location for the new arena as proof.
After the commission voted 7-1 against the south Augusta site, Davis said everyone turned their backs on the location.
“Everybody went silent,” the mayor said. “That is exactly what we do in this city. Because when it is our interest, we talk, but when it is no longer our interest, we get quiet. We have been quiet 20-plus years, and I’m tired of being quiet.”
Here is a little advice for the mayor: If you want to do something productive in south Augusta, take up people’s offer to look at the site and come up with an answer.
You keep saying this isn’t a south Augusta vs. west Augusta vs. east Augusta vs. downtown debate.
If that’s true, sit down and talk about a real solution and get a straight answer from the owners of the mall about what they intend to do.
The owners of the mall are the real problem. They have left the property sitting there for more than 20 years.
So, don’t blame that taxpayers for that situation. We didn’t create that empty giant on Gordon Highway.