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With bond defeat, city looks at other ways to fund new arena

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 6:58 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 3, 2021 at 7:20 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - It’s back to the drawing board for a new James Brown Arena.

Voters turned down the $235 million needed to finish the project. Nearly 13,000 people cast a ballot for this.

Five thousand voted in favor of the funding. Close to 8,000 voted against it.

But officials say they’re not giving up on the plans just yet.

The Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority says it’s not a matter of if we’ll get a new James Brown Arena – it’s a just matter of when and who will pay for it. But until they figure it out, what you see is what you get.

The current arena is 41 years old. It’s outdated, outworn, and pretty soon it might be outshined.

“Savannah, Columbia, Greenville – we need a new arena, so we can remain competitive and people come to us,” said Margaret Woodard, Downtown Development Authority executive director.

Voters denied using increased property taxes to pay the remaining $235 million needed for a new arena. That means if the Coliseum Authority wants this new arena, it will have to lift some of the burden off taxpayers.

“This is the building we need to build if we want to build. I mean, we’re gonna stick with that,” said Brad Usry, Coliseum Authority vice chairman.

But the sooner, the better. Savannah is opening a new 9,500-seat arena in January. The price tag was $165 million, using SPLOST dollars.

“I mean, yes, we can all go to Savannah and we can go to other places, but wouldn’t it be great if people came here and spent their money and stayed in our hotels and ate in our restaurants and shopped in our stores? It would be a huge economic boon,” said Woodward.

Columbia County also recently expanded its entertainment options with a new performing arts center.

“All we can do is look out our own backyard. We have a building, albeit old and functionally obsolete, but it still can have shows,” said Usry.

The authority says upgrading the current arena would be a bad investment because it’s so outdated. But downsizing the new plans isn’t an option, either.

“So we need to stick with this. We need to find a good finance package that the citizens of Augusta will accept,” he said.

Until the Coliseum Authority takes its next steps, the money for the arena allocated in SPLOST 8 will sit in the bank. In the meantime the current arena will continue hosting shows and selling tickets.

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