After last week’s election, the question as to where the new $120 million James Brown Arena should be built seems clear: Downtown Augusta.
Two non-binding questions on the May 22 ballot asked both Republicans and Democrats whether they supported the James Brown Arena being built at the former Regency Mall site in south Augusta, or whether it should remain at the existing downtown location on Seventh Street.
More than 60 percent of voters supported the downtown location, while about 45 percent were in favor of the Regency Mall site.
By the end of election night, those who supported the James Brown Arena remaining downtown were declaring a victory.
“Thanks for your Vote and Support!!” Brad Usry, vice chair of the Augusta Coliseum Authority posted to Facebook on Tuesday night after the votes were counted. “Time to get busy on Downtown Arena!!”
However, there are already a lot of grumblings among some of the Augusta commissioners who don’t believe voters understood the questions on the ballots.
Some commissioners claim that the wording of both questions on the Republican and Democratic ballots was confusing, causing some voters not to understand what they were voting for or against.
So, whose fault is that?
The Augusta Commission agreed to ask both political parties to place the questions on the ballots back in January.
Commissioners had more than four months to make sure that citizens understood what they were voting on regarding the arena.
In fact, mysterious pro-Regency Mall billboards were purchased and put up around town urging voters to support the south Augusta location for the new arena.
So, if some voters truly didn’t understand the non-binding questions on the ballots, they probably weren’t following the issue at all.
The questions were extremely clear to anyone even remotely aware of the arena debate.
The Republican ballot asked the following two questions:
- Should the Richmond County Commission approve a site location for the new James Brown Arena at the current location downtown? Yes or No.
Should the Richmond County Commission approve a site location for the new James Brown Arena at the Regency Mall location on Gordon Hwy? Yes or No.
The Democratic ballot asked:
- Should the Augusta Commission approve a site location for the new arena at the current downtown location? Yes or No.
- Should the Augusta Commission approve a site location for the new arena at the Regency Mall location on Gordon Highway? Yes or No.
You can’t get much clearer than that, but all of a sudden, some commissioners appear to want to ignore the results of the arena vote, claiming citizens were confused at the polls.
The truth is, voters understood the questions, but some commissioners didn’t like their answers because they still favor the Regency Mall location.
Some of the commissioners, along with Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, were counting on south Augusta voters to wholeheartedly support the former mall site.
Now, since the downtown arena site was selected by voters as the preferred location, Augusta commissioners are preparing to send the debate back to members of the Augusta Coliseum Authority.
This is the same coliseum authority that officially approved the Regency Mall site after Mayor Davis began pushing the location behind the scenes last summer.
Davis has yet to publicly discuss the May 22 results of the non-binding vote on the arena, but before the election, the mayor couldn’t escape the topic.
He was constantly being asked about his decision to support the former Regency Mall location.
The one way the mayor would try to downplay questions about the arena was by insisting that he would support whatever the community decided regarding the May 22 vote.
Over the past several weeks before the election, Davis said he would support the outcome of the two non-binding questions regarding the arena on the ballot: No matter what the decision.
“It is a divisive issue,” Davis said last month, adding that the arena debate had changed the “tone” of this election. “Many individuals who supported me previously are now supporting my opponent because of a singular decision to choose the Regency location as the place that we will build a multi-purpose arena.”
Davis said that “single decision” was altering people’s view of his entire performance as mayor.
Therefore, Davis said he was committed to supporting the result of the non-binding questions on the ballot.
“You can decide whether you want it at the Regency location or whether you want it to be built at the current location downtown,” Davis said. “As your mayor, I am going hold the flag up and I am going to support whatever decision the people decide.”
Let’s see if Davis is a man of his word.
The votes have been counted.
The people want the James Brown Arena to remain downtown.