The chairman of the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority presented nine members of the Augusta Commission with the progress being made on building a new James Brown Arena. County Administrator Odie Donald opened the meeting referring to the project as “the most transformative project in Augusta history.”
Cedric Johnson, chairman of the Coliseum Authority, pointed out there are fewer than 35 days before Richmond County voters will be asked to approve a bond referendum of up to $240 million.
Money for the project, $25 million, was included in the SPLOST 8 approved by voters in March 2021. Commissioners authorized releasing $15 million ahead of schedule.
Johnson said those funds are being used for design and development documents.
“These documents will allow us to get a more accurate construction budget,” he explained. “We hope to have the final construction numbers by the end of October.”
If the referendum is approved, it will result in a tax increase on property owners. Johnson said, based on the current digest, it will be a 2.7887 millage rate increase. For a $100,000 home, that translates to a tax increase of about $97.60 a year.
Commissioners had the chance to ask questions of Johnson and project manager HB Brantley of Atlanta-based SPACE. Commissioner Sean Frantom said the question he is most asked by the public is whether hockey may return to Augusta.
“We have had conversations with ECHL Hockey as well as a potential owners group, as well as a local support group regarding minor league hockey,” said Brantley. “We asked them to do a market analysis based on the potential efficacy of hockey in Augusta and they agree to do that.”
The Garden City was home to the Augusta Lynx, an East Coast Hockey League team starting in 1998. Local fans had the reputation for being the loudest in the league. The National Hockey League announced the minor league team was folding in December 2008.
Johnson told commissioners they are also trying to identify other sources of revenue, including working with a consultant in Washington, D.C. for a $5 million dollar grant to fund street improvements associated with the project.
He also mentioned the authority hopes there will be a demand for naming rights for the new facility. That prompted questions from Commissioner Alvin Mason.
Mason asked, “Just for clarity, this does not preclude the name James Brown being on the arena, does it?”
Brantley explained, “We don’t intend for the James Brown name to go away, but if there’s a market for shared naming rights, we’ll look at that as well.”
Johnson told commissioners members of the Coliseum Authority can be available to speak to the public if they have any town hall or community meetings leading up to the Nov. 2 referendum vote.
Richmond County residents who want to vote on the referendum must be registered to vote by Oct. 4. Residents can register or check current registration status on Georgia’s My Voter Page or contact the Board of Elections office at 706-821-2340 for more information.
Absentee ballots may also be requested through the state website or at the Richmond County Board of Elections website www.augustaga.gov/vote Requests can also be submitted to the local office by mail, email or fax. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is Friday, Oct. 22. The ballots must be returned to the office by 7 p.m. on election day.
Advance voting will begin on Tuesday, Oct. 12.