When Brian Graham, the director of corporate events for Morris Communications, sent out a press release last week announcing the “development of a new major concert, festival and events venue” for the Augusta area, it sparked some attention.
After all, Augustans have been consumed by the debate of whether a new $120 million James Brown Arena should be constructed at the former abandoned Regency Mall site in south Augusta.
That’s all people have been talking about for the past several weeks.
So plans for a “new major concert venue” in the area sounded intriguing.
Well, Morris Communications proved that it can make news out of just about anything, and timing really is everything.
Last week’s press release stated that the “new venue, along with its surrounding events complex, will have an immense and ongoing positive economic impact on our community, and will greatly contribute to the enrichment of the area’s cultural, entertainment and sports scenes.”
Well, let’s not get carried away now.
Basically, Graham announced the development of a master plan for the Hippodrome in North Augusta, which is owned by Morris Communications Co., the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle.
The master plan is meant to “rebrand the facility as Hippodrome Events Complex,” to serve as a “multi-purpose events venue” for the Augusta area, Graham said during a press conference on Friday, Sept. 8.
While the Hippodrome, a 155-acre facility on Schultz Hill in North Augusta, is currently known more as an equine events venue, Graham said he wanted to diversify the facility to better accommodate events such as “expositions, fairs, markets, concerts, festivals, community events and sports competitions.”
He was quick to point out that the Hippodrome is already home to the annual National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship.
But Graham also was pleased to announce that Morris Communications’ “debut event” for the updated facility would be the 24th Annual Border Bash on Friday, Nov. 3.
Exciting stuff, isn’t it?
Just to ensure that the local press understood the significance of this master plan for the Hippodrome, Graham made sure to mention the recent debate over the James Brown Arena in Augusta.
However, when Graham talked about the new $120 million arena, he made it sound like the decision to move the new facility out to south Augusta was a done deal.
“With the recent announcement that the James Brown Arena is going to be moved to south Augusta,” Graham said, “we feel very strongly that downtown Augusta/North Augusta deserves to have a top-notch events venue. We’re dedicated to creating a first-class venue.”
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
Last month, the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority voted to support the former Regency Mall location as the preferred site for the city’s new $120 million arena, but the authority still has to review the site and figure out how to pay for the new complex.
While the authority has the ability to issue bonds for the project, it still would take approval by the Augusta Commission to secure the bonds. Also, any use of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) monies would require voter approval in Richmond County.
So there is still a very long road ahead when it comes to constructing a new arena in south Augusta.
In fact, the coliseum authority still hasn’t come close to finalizing a deal with the owners of the Regency Mall property.
All they have right now is a vague letter discussing the proposal.
During the coliseum authority’s Aug. 22 meeting, authority member Darren Smith pulled out a letter from Cardinal Management, LLC, the Mattituck, N.Y.-based company that owns the Regency Mall site.
In the letter dated Aug. 21, Alan Cardinale of Cardinal Management proposed a $1 a year land lease for 35 years for approximately 39 acres on the Regency Mall site to be used for a new arena.
The letter, which was addressed to “Hardie Davis, Jr. Mayor of City of Augusta,” appeared hastily written and included several typos.
“Rental will be $1 per year for the first 35 years plus a 10year tax abatement at any time during that period,” Cardinale’s letter states. “The City will agree to asphalt entire parking lot, provide new lighting, landscaping and maintenance of such thru out the duration of lease. Cardinale will at the same time, renovate the exterior of the remaining portion of Regency Mall.”
So, south Augusta residents won’t see any dirt moving at the Regency Mall site for quite some time, if ever.
But that didn’t stop Graham from using that controversial proposal for the James Brown Arena to promote the Hippodrome’s master plan.
“This investment will contribute to the enrichment of our cultural, entertainment and sports scene,” Graham said. “I’m confident that this facility will be of service in many ways as our community continues to grow.”
The Hippodrome Events Complex.
We aren’t sure what actually motivated Morris to put on this dog and pony show, but one thing is for certain … we sure know how to name things around here.