Have some members of the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority taken stupid pills this week?
Did they walk outside during the solar eclipse, look up at the sun and go completely blind?
Did the solar rays somehow burn a hole in their brains?
While these questions may seem a little harsh, they’re not.
After more than a year of hunting for the ideal location to build a new $110 million James Brown Arena, the majority of Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority members actually selected the abandoned former Regency Mall on Gordon Highway as their preferred site.
The only reasonable response to that decision is, “WTF?”
What the hell happened?
The last time the public heard from the coliseum authority members, they were insisting that the new James Brown Arena would remain downtown — where it belongs.
Specifically, the authority’s New Arena Committee publicly said it was “committed to downtown” for the new arena’s location.
Last year, when the Metro Spirit interviewed Chris Bird, the general manager of the Augusta Entertainment Complex, he was under the impression from the coliseum authority that the James Brown Arena’s new home would be in the downtown area.
“It is going to stay downtown,” Bird said in 2016. “The big questions right now are: Where will we build it? How is it going to get paid for? And what is that going to bring that we don’t currently have?”
Well, the Regency Mall location won’t bring anything to the table… except death.
Sure, the site itself is dreadful.
The more than 800,000-square-foot facility off Gordon Highway and Deans Bridge Road in south Augusta is now literally a shell of its former self.
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 even if the coliseum authority wipes all of that away and builds the most magnificent 10,000-seat arena for a whopping price of $110 million, then what?
Look around south Augusta’s Gordon Highway and Deans Bridge Road.
What do you see?
Abandoned shopping centers. Empty former car dealerships. Fast food chains and title pawn places.
Wouldn’t that be the perfect place to for a night on the town?
You can hear the ads now, “Hey Augusta! Go get your $100 tickets to see Janet Jackson or the Foo Fighters or Kanye West live in concert, but before the show, don’t forget to grab a Whopper and fries at Burger King! Enjoy!”
Why is the Insider so outraged over this idea? Is it because the Insider hates south Augusta?
Not even close.
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.
Why? Augusta has gone down this road before. Remember, everybody?
Back in 2004, The Augusta Chronicle Publisher William S. Morris III suggested that the city build an $80 million sports arena, nicknamed the “Billy Barn,” on the 70-acre site at Regency Mall.
It was deemed a bad idea by citizens back then and it is an even worse idea now.
Now, some people will argue that bringing a new arena to south Augusta will transform the area and turn it into the next Evans or Grovetown area.
That highly unlikely. It will take years to transform the south Augusta area and one new arena, no matter how glorious, can’t do it alone.
But someone is trying to sell that idea.
Can you guess who?
“Earlier today, the Coliseum Authority voted to build a new civic center where the Regency Mall once stood. In choosing this location, which is in the geographic center of our county, the Coliseum Authority has exhibited visionary leadership that will create a bright and promising future for our entire community,” Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis wrote in a prepared statement on Aug. 22. “I applaud this monumental decision and look forward to continued collaboration with the Coliseum Authority and Commission to turn this shared vision for our new arena, #SOGO, and all of Augusta into a reality.”
Davis may have just killed his 2018 run for reelection.
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.
Davis definitely just opened the door for some serious competition.
One man that most of Augusta knows would like to one day be mayor is Augusta Commissioner Sean Frantom.
As soon as he heard the news about the Regency Mall location, Frantom immediately posted on Twitter, “Coliseum Authority votes to move JBA arena to Regency Mall location. I am shocked and disappointed with this decision. #upset #loveAugusta.”
Chances are Augustans will see Frantom’s name on next year’s ballot for mayor.
But you know another person who should serious consider running for mayor next year?
“But isn’t he the vice chairman of the coliseum authority?” you might be asking.
Yes, but he appears to be one of the very few authority members that truly understands the vision for Augusta.
Usry was outraged over the authority’s decision to recommend that the new arena be moved to Regency Mall. He insists that the new arena needs to be downtown and that it needs be built right.
“There are two really crucial aspects to this: We have got to put it in the right location and we can’t cut any corners,” Usry told a Metro Spirit reporter. “We need to stick to our guns and build what needs to be built. Otherwise, we will regret it forever.”
Regret. That’s something Augusta knows all too well.
Let’s not make a foolish decision with $110 million that the city will regret forever.
Folks, let’s walk away from this insane Regency Mall suggestion before it’s too late.