Well folks, they did it again. But this time they took it even a step further.
While Coliseum Authority Attorney Ed Enoch did not immediately share the proposed deal offered by Regency Mall owner Cardinal Management with the media, word quickly spread about the terms of the agreement from folks close to the situation who are outraged by the proposal.
Basically, if the coliseum authority agrees to build at least a 12,000-seat arena on its property, Cardinal Management will agree to “gift” the city 10 acres of property at the south Augusta site that the company owns. Specifically, it will be the 10 acres on which the former Montgomery Ward store currently sits.
However, the city needs at least three times that amount of land to build the new $120 million civic center, so the authority will still have to agree to build this state-of-the-art facility on property owned by Cardinal Management.
That should have been the first big red flag.
Here is the next one: The city must agree to abate all property taxes on the mall property for 10 years.
But there’s more.
The authority also must agree to redo the asphalt, take care of the landscaping, install lighting, provide drainage and utilities and do all the necessary maintenance on the entire mall property for five years.
Only after five years will the authority be responsible for just the nearly 30 acres of property and parking needed for the new arena, rather than the entire property. The authority also must be willing to pay for maintenance, insurance and property taxes on the almost 30-acre arena parking site for the entire life of the arena.
In exchange for all that, Cardinal Management will “retain the right” to develop the remaining former mall property that it owns. However, if the company does build on its property, Cardinal Management must stick to “compatible uses” for the land such as restaurants, office space, hotels and retail.
So, there it is folks.
The deal that stinks all the way from Gordon Highway down to Savannah River and back.
But four coliseum authority members still chose to support the proposal despite the very vocal objections of the authority’s Vice Chairman Brad Usry and authority member John Kelley.
Usry was clearly in disbelief that coliseum authority members were accepting Cardinal Management’s proposal.
“I just want to go on record that I’m very uncomfortable with these terms,” Usry told his fellow coliseum authority members. “And I’m very uncomfortable with us ignoring the recommendations of the architects we hired.”
He asked his colleagues that, if the Augusta Commission rejects this proposal by Cardinal Management, that the authority “should move on.”
After the vote, four Augusta commissioners — who were actually allowed to stay in the closed-door legal meeting despite protests from members of the media, specifically by WJBF Senior Reporter George Eskola — said that they still have very mixed feelings about the proposal from Cardinal Management.
“Right now, I still don’t believe that it’s a good situation for the city,” Augusta Commissioner Dennis Williams said. “And that’s what we have to be absolutely sure in our evaluation as to which way to vote that is good for the city, overall. And we don’t want to have an arena out there on somebody else’s property just for the mere sake of having it out there.”
Williams said he is uncomfortable with many aspects of Cardinal’s proposal.
“It is going to cost the city more than what it is worth,” Williams said. “We just have to look really closely at the arrangement.”
The coliseum authority told commissioners that they would receive a copy of Cardinal’s proposal within the next 24 hours.
“I want to be able to get the document in my hands, sit down, go through it and make a good firm decision,” Williams said.
However, Williams said he was very optimistic that it wouldn’t take the Augusta Commission very long to make a final vote on the Cardinal’s offer.
“I haven’t really seen anything that was good for the city in this whole situation, so it shouldn’t require a lot of thought in determining that it is not good for the city,” Williams said. “It don’t think it will take long.”
However, Augusta Commissioner Bill Fennoy wasn’t so sure.
“I want to see it in writing because we weren’t involved in the discussion during the coliseum authority meeting,” Fennoy said. “I think it is important for my colleagues and I to see what they are proposing and to have some discussions around what is being proposed and see if it is something that we as commissioners can live with.”
Fennoy, whose district includes the downtown area, said he still likes the Regency Mall location for the arena.
“I don’t like quick decisions, and I don’t support a quick decision because a $120 million arena should not be a decision that is made quickly,” Fennoy said. “It should be given some thought and some careful consideration, and that’s what I’m going to do before I cast my vote because I still like the location.”
Augusta Commissioner Ben Hasan said he still has serious doubts about the deal.
“I haven’t had a chance to look at the proposal, but I’m somewhat still leery of it because all of it goes back to my initial sit-down with the Cardinale family a couple of months ago,” Hasan said. “Back then, I didn’t see where they were looking to make an actual investment in Augusta. And I am still getting the feeling that they are not willing to make a hard investment like they are expecting our local government will do.”
Immediately after the vote, Augusta Commissioner Sammie Sias said he appreciated the fact that the coliseum authority made a decision and moved the item to the Augusta Commission for its consideration.
“We will get a chance to look at it,” Sias said. “And I don’t think the commission is going to take as long as this has been going on to make a decision on this proposal. I think you will see a very quick response to it.”