Things are look pretty bleak these days when it comes to the discussions surrounding a new James Brown Arena in downtown Augusta.
Just last year, there was a flurry of excitement regarding the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority’s impending announcement that they were going to select the future site of a new James Brown Arena.
But then, the announcement never really happened.
Just last week, Coliseum Authority Chairman Cedric Johnson admitted to The Augusta Chronicle that the authority was “somewhat naive to the process” and excitement over the announcement was a bit “premature.”
You can say that again.
More than two years ago, members of Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority began working toward building a new state-of-the-art arena.
A 2014 feasibility and economic impact study performed by AECOM, a Los Angeles-based consulting firm, stated that the James Brown Arena was suffering from “multiple physical deficiencies,” especially compared to modern arenas around the country.
As a result of its findings, AECOM recommended that the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority consider building a new 10,000-seat arena at a cost ranging between $90 million to $110 million.
Along with the 10,000 regular seats, the proposal for the new arena would include premium seating with 14 luxury suites, 10 loge boxes and 500 club seats.
In AECOM’s feasibility study, the consultant also listed several regional markets that Augusta is trying to compete against including arenas in Gwinnett County, Ga., North Charleston, S.C., Greenville, S.C. and Jacksonville, Fla.
While those markets are considered larger than the CSRA, AECOM’s study stated that Augusta is “well-located” for touring events, which promoters would find appealing.
But the truth of the matter is, Augusta has a current arena that is obsolete.
About 40 years ago, the James Brown Arena started out as part of a bigger vision to invigorate Augusta’s faltering downtown district.
Back in 1973, the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority first asked Chinese-born architect I.M. Pei’s New York firm to perform the design work and site selection for a new civic center.
While Pei is often referred to as the master of modern architecture, the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center — now known as the James Brown Arena — has never really been considered a work of art.
However, the more than 35-year-old arena has served the community well, hosting a variety of legendary artists over the years including KISS, Elton John, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Van Halen, Def Leppard and Alabama.
But, let’s face it, the old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be.
The James Brown Arena is too small, its concourses are tiny and uninviting, the seating is uncomfortable, there are no luxury boxes, there is no natural light, the concessions are embarrassing and the restrooms are unbearable.
Many people believe Augusta deserves a much more comfortable arena that can seat up to 10,000 people in order to attract larger shows, but the problem is, no one wants to pay for it.
A few years ago, the coliseum authority had originally asked the city for $15 million from the SPLOST 7 revenue, but the Augusta Commission authorized only $6 million in the package that was eventually approved by voters in 2015.
Now, the coliseum authority is forced to use some of that money to repair its aging arena.
But that’s like putting lipstick on a sick, aging pig.
Approximately $1.3 million is planned to be spent on upgrading the existing arena and Bell Auditorium, but the coliseum authority is still keeping about $4.5 million for land acquisition of the future site for the new arena.
Of course, the exact location for a new arena is still up in the air.
Also, the funding for a new $110 million arena is still up in the air.
So, let’s face it, the possibilities of a new arena is… still up in the air.