Now that a week has passed since the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority selected the abandoned former Regency Mall site on Gordon Highway as the preferred location for the new James Brown Arena, folks are finally getting down to the bottom of what happened.
And it appears that Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis is the magician behind the arena madness.
Despite the fact that the coliseum authority had spent more than a year reviewing locations around town and had even announced that they were dedicated to keeping the new James Brown Arena downtown, all of that hard work was turned on its head.
Of course, that’s not to mention the $142,000 arena plan that the authority paid consultants to prepare regarding the proposed sites that was just flushed down the toilet last week.
Instead of listening to the consultants, Davis decided to derail the authority’s plans and drive that train out to south Augusta.
Now, the mayor seems to want to play it off that he’s simply supporting the coliseum authority’s wishes, specifically authority member Darren Smith.
Well, if you believe that, Cardinal Management has an old abandoned mall out on Gordon Highway that it would love to sell you for at least $63 million.
But that price is likely rising with each passing day because Cardinal Management already has some suckers on the line for that property: namely the taxpayers of Augusta-Richmond County.
And, folks, we are about to be reeled in.
Just check out the deal: 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 Aug. 21 letter, which is clearly addressed to “Hardie Davis, Jr. Mayor of City of Augusta,” appears hastily written and includes 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, not only will Augusta be building a $120 million arena on a site that it does not own, the city also will be providing the owner with a 10-year tax abatement and it will be responsible for clearing the property, paving the parking lot, providing new lighting and maintaining at least 39 acres of the former Regency Mall site for the next 35 years.
And, according to this letter, the remaining portion of the old Regency Mall will remain next door to this beautiful new $120 million arena.
How incredibly charming, eh?
But many critics believe the deal gets even worse because, in the end, the city will actually be forced to maintain the entire 78-acre site if the coliseum authority wants the new arena to look at all presentable to the public.
After all, Augustans know what the current site looks like now under Cardinal Management.
The more than 800,000-square-foot facility off Gordon Highway and Deans Bridge Road in south Augusta is dreadful.
The towering light poles surrounding the mall have long ago rusted, there are weeds big enough to be trees across the parking lot and huge concrete barriers are now blocking the once-welcoming entrances.
Simply put, the Regency Mall location is an eyesore.
But somehow, Mayor Davis was able to convince four coliseum authority members that this was an incredible deal or, in his words, a “monumental decision.”
“How did he manage to do that?” many people are asking.
Let’s just say, he got a little help from his friends.
Word on the street is the father/son team of James and Steven Kendrick helped the mayor by making some calls to convince enough coliseum authority members to vote in favor of the Regency Mall site.
When the Kendrick family calls, people listen. The Kendricks are political powerhouses in parts of this town.
So, that’s how the mayor got the deal done, but another question is why?
Why shake things up and convince the coliseum authority to dump the existing downtown location and turn its efforts toward Regency Mall?
Apparently, the mayor actually thought it would solidify support for his re-election bid in 2018. He apparently believed the majority of Augustans would view him as some kind of economic hero.
Boy, did that backfire.
Sure. South Augusta voters might still love him, but a lot of the folks who supported him from the downtown area and west Augusta are furious with him now.
Davis definitely just opened the door for some serious competition.
Ever since Davis’ major misstep last week, a whole list of possible new candidates for mayor in 2018 have been floating around town.
Everyone from Augusta Commissioner Sean Frantom to Coliseum Authority Chairman Cedric Johnson to Mayor Pro Tem Mary Davis to Coliseum Authority Vice Chairman Brad Usry to even former Mayor Deke Copenhaver all have been mentioned as possibilities.
If the mayor is wise, he will quickly decide to clean up his mess and come up with another proposal for the Regency Mall site.
If Alan Cardinale of Cardinal Management is actually open to a $1-a-year land lease for 35 years for approximately 39 acres on the Regency Mall, make him a new proposal that he can’t refuse.
A Cyber-related office park seems like a wise choice considering the Regency Mall site is located between Fort Gordon and the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center on Reynolds Street.
Or a huge film studio on the former mall site sounds like an exciting idea considering Georgia was recently named the No. 1 filming location worldwide.
More top 100 feature films released at the domestic box office in 2016 were made in Georgia than any other place, according to a new industry study by a Los Angeles’ film office called FilmL.A.
Georgia actually outranked popular states such as California, New York, North Carolina and Louisiana.
“The rapid growth of the film and television industry in Georgia and the state’s steadfast commitment to its support is remarkable,” FilmL.A. stated in its 2017 report. “With 17 projects in 2016, the first-ranked Peach State hosted nearly three times as many feature films as fifth-place New York and Louisiana.”
Due to Georgia’s generous use of tax credits, which are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the state has managed to lure both movie and TV productions here, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Georgia-lensed productions generated an economic impact of more than $7 billion during fiscal year 2016,” representatives from the Georgia Department of Economic Development recently told the AJC. “The film and television industry is responsible for more than 85,000 jobs and $4.2 billion in wages, directly employing more than 25,000 Georgia residents.”
Boom! There you go, Mayor Davis. You need to get on that train and see if it can take south Augusta in an exciting new direction.
After all, there is no question about it — south Augusta needs a major economic boost.
It needs new jobs, new businesses, new homes, new developments, new restaurants, new parks, new movie theaters, new shopping centers… but not a new arena.
Not this. Not now. No way.
Let’s not make a foolish decision with $120 million that the city will regret forever.
Folks, let’s walk away from this insane Regency Mall suggestion before it’s too late.