It’s an exciting time to live in Augusta. The city is growing with Fort Gordon, Augusta University and the cyber industry leading the way. The downtown area is on the verge of a renaissance. As our city grows, it is important our leaders address infrastructure, public safety, education, and quality of life issues and opportunities. Today’s sports and entertainment facilities are reflections of the spirit of the communities and institutions that they serve. On Tuesday, November 2nd, you have a voice in the largest quality of life investment in Augusta’s history.
When the Augusta Richmond County Coliseum Authority (ARCCA) was reorganized about seven years ago, we were honored to be selected as Chairman and Vice-chairman of the Authority. We quickly realized the complex challenges facing the aging venue. The management’s time was spent on maintenance and water issues instead of selling, marketing, and branding the complex. The James Brown Arena (JBA) and Bell Auditorium lacked the amenities and conveniences that patrons and artists expect from a modern venue. The JBA also lacked seating and rigging capacity to be competitive in the region – shows were passing us by for newer, modern venues. In essence, the James Brown Arena has served us well, but it is obsolete in today’s competitive market. With these issues in mind, we turned to the experts and the ARCCA commissioned a feasibility study to determine the best course of action-renovating or rebuilding. The study identified that renovating was not practical or cost-effective. This study also determined a replacement arena of 9000-10,000 seats was the sweet spot to be competitive in the region in a market of Augusta’s size.
To facilitate ARCCA moving forward with the new James Brown Arena, we assembled a world-class team with experience from around the country to guide us. H.J. Russell/S.P.A.C.E. Venues serves as our owner’s representative to look out for the best interests of the City of Augusta and the ARCCA. Our design team is led by Perkins&WIll, the preeminent designer of arenas, convention/conference and event centers in the United States. PCL Construction serves as a cost consultant to ensure that the project cost was aligned with the project budget as the design evolved from concept to final design. We are also proud of our partnership with Spectra, the best management company and team in the industry. We tasked the project team with a commitment that at least 30% of the work done on this project go to local and minority businesses. Our team is committed to our local community and disadvantaged. We are proud to say that 42% of the $18M spent on this project to date has been with local and/or minority businesses.
This is not just simply a new arena. This is an opportunity to elevate Augusta through investment in a facility that will showcase all our world-class city has to offer. This new venue will create opportunities that are simply not possible in our current arena. Premium seating options, from luxury boxes to loge seating and concourse clubs, will expand the variety and price points of seating available. Wider, more comfortable seats, open concourses, and roof terraces transform the entire experience of what it means to go to the arena. And there will be plenty of bathrooms – everywhere! The concourses open to the event floor, allowing guests to continue enjoying the event even while enjoying the diverse food and beverage options available. The Taste of Augusta will be the culinary highlight, showcasing our local cuisine. The rigging capacity and state-of-the-art technology will allow the arena to host any show or production touring today (including the ones that currently pass us by). Check out the iconic design at www.NewJamesBrownArena.com.
More than an arena, investments in our community will include a three-acre green space to host pre-event functions and to enjoy every day of the year. A multi-purpose ballroom and adjacent rooftop terraces – along with four meeting rooms – will provide much-needed space for a wide range of community events. The Bell Auditorium will benefit from additional and renovated restrooms, concessions, premium spaces and will finally be ADA compliant. The new Great Hall will connect the new JBA and the Bell Auditorium, providing operational efficiencies such a common loading dock, a kitchen to service the JBA and Bell (Note: The Bell has never had a kitchen all the food has to be carted in), common box office and management offices.
The premium seating areas will not only enhance the experience but will add revenue opportunities that we have never realized. Multiple opportunities for sponsorships and naming rights will enhance our bottom line, which is important for ARCCA as financial stewards of the Augusta Entertainment Complex. For example, Savannah’s new arena has commitments near a million dollars annually in sponsorships and naming rights alone.
While most of the attention is on concerts this venue has the opportunity for so much more. It will complement the Convention Center with their larger conventions that might otherwise outgrow Augusta. The Augusta Sports Council will be able to host GHSA NCAA Division 2 and 3 tournaments and other youth sports we cannot currently support.
We recognize that Augusta-Richmond County has other challenges that need to be addressed. With the economic impact of the new James Brown Arena, the impact this complex will go further than just restaurants and bars being packed on event days and increasing sales tax revenues. The 30-year economic impacts include: 600+ new jobs, 400+ construction jobs, $656M in new earnings and an overall economic impact of $1.5 BILLION. With this level of economic vitality, our tax base and economy will be significantly strengthened, providing additional financial resources to benefit the entire community.
The finance package seems to be the elephant in the room. The bond referendum on November 2, 2021, will ask voters to allow the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority to raise money through the sale of bonds, which is the most cost-effective way to pay for large projects. The bonds will be repaid with property tax revenue. The cost per property owner is estimated to be $97 per year per $100,000 ASSESSED Value (not market value). This revenue stream guarantees this bond, but the ARCCA and the New Arena committee is committed to look for additional revenue – such as future SPLOST, grants, and tourism taxes – to pay these bonds down and lower the millage obligation and retire the bond early, thereby significantly reducing the property tax required.
Simply put, the current arena is well past its useful life. If Augusta is going to continue to grow and prosper and offer the quality of life we all deserve, it is time for a new venue. Most cities our size in this region have already made this investment and for us to stay competitive, we need to do the same. It’s Showtime! Why not Augusta? We are proud of the iconic building design, civic parks and plazas, and multiple community spaces. We know the new James Brown Arena will be a point of civic pride for all Augustans for decades. We feel good! Please vote on Tuesday, November 2nd.
Cedric Johnson, Chairman, Augusta Richmond County Coliseum Authority Brad Usry, Vice-Chairman, Augusta Richmond County Coliseum Authority/Chairman, New Arena Committee