AUGUSTA (WJBF) — The property owner of the Regency Mall wrote a letter to Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis this week, proposing a 35 year lease at a dollar a year so the city can build a new arena in the old mall’s place.
“Plenty of opportunity for economic development, but what you also have is one of the main corridors to the city, which is Gordon Highway, but also Deans Bridge Road, and all of it coming off of Bobby Jones Expressway,” Coliseum Authority Member Darren Smith said.
The recommendation came as a shock to many, including the Coliseum Authority Chairman, Cedric Johnson.
“I always thought that the arena should stay downtown and try to make it work in the current location,” Johnson said,
If the new arena were to be constructed downtown, the James Brown Arena would need to be demolished and it would take about two years for the new one to be finished.
“We’ve had numerous shows that have sold out. We have people coming there all the time. We’ve had the highest attendance in the history of the arena in just the last couple of years,” Johnson said.
But instead, the plan is to move forward at the Regency Mall property.
If it happens, the city will have to knock down the building and asphalt the entire parking lot, which for some, is the main selling point.
“We’re pushing the limit on the building we have now at 6,000 people capacity. If we put something downtown with 12,000 people, I just have no idea where we are going to put them all,” Smith said.
Even though the “Save the J” campaign has been trending on social media all week, Johnson says he doesn’t want the arena to divide the community, but he does want everyone to look at the plan’s finances.
“That’s a 35 year lease. So you’re taking a $120-million asset and you’re putting that asset on somebody else’s property. And at the end of the 35-years, then they can charge you market rate,” Johnson added.
The Coliseum Authority still needs to get financial experts to look at the current proposal at the Regency Mall.
The recommendation will have to go before the Augusta Commission before the plan is approved.