Lawmakers clearing the way for new vote on rebuilding James Brown Arena

Georgia lawmakers have moved forward with legislation to ease the way for a referendum on replacing Augusta’s James Brown Arena.
Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 3:45 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Georgia lawmakers have moved forward with legislation to ease the way for a referendum on replacing Augusta’s James Brown Arena.

House Bill 230 would allow the public to vote on a new half-percent sales tax to fund construction.

It passed by a 165-7 vote in the House on Friday ahead of a key deadline in the legislative process to ensure measures get to both the House and the Senate.

The bill would get around some of the problems of a SPLOST measure like the one local voters rejected last year.

Cedric Johnson, chairman of the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, is happy with the bill’s progress.

He said city leaders have known for at least seven or eight years that a new arena is needed.

The older building is “not up to par for the things that we want to do and the entertainment that we want to have,” he said.

“So it’s like a dream or wish that’s looked like it might come true,” get said.

He said unlike the SPLOST plan, which was a property tax, this proposal would be a sales tax on purchases in Richmond County.

And because people from outside Richmond County buy things here, “probably roughly 30 to 40% of the people that will help pay for the arena don’t actually live in Augusta,” Johnson said.

“I think it’s a good possibility that it will pass not having a lot of different things tacked on to it,” he said. “It’s just the Augusta Entertainment Complex,” which includes the James Brown Arena and nearby Bell Auditorium.

After the Bell is renovated and a successor to the arena is built, “you will have one of the nicest facilities in the state of Georgia,” he said.

The new arena would have more than 10,000 seats, “and we can bring acts in that we can’t currently bring in because, No. 1, the size of the seating and just the infrastructure.”

Officials have “a lot more confidence in it passing because I think that we can tell the story of what we’ve been able to do, how we’ve done it here,” Johnson said.

“We’ve been able to bring very good entertainment to Augusta at these two venues,” he said. “And I think people will be happy once they see it and once we educate them on what we’re trying to do I think they will be very supportive of voting yes.”

As far as the legislation that would allow the vote to take place, he’s looking to the same passage in the Senate that the measure got in the House.

“Our delegation is just a magnificent job and helping us go through this process,” he said.

He said officials have been working on such a plan for a couple of years, “of knowing what to do knowing how to do it, and making sure we’re putting something out there that people will be willing to vote for.”

If the Senate approves the bill, C-SPLOST will go to the governor to sign. Then it’ll be in the hands of Richmond County voters in November to decide whether they want a tax to help fund a new arena.

Local House Representative Mark Newton provided this statement: “Great to have House passage of HB230 which will allow the voters of Augusta Richmond to review and decide on a state-of-the-art replacement for the 45 year old James Brown arena. With much of the regional benefit of the proposed arena that will benefit others outside of Augusta, and the half penny added sales tax will allow those outside of Augusta to help fund nearly 40% the new arena. I look forward to moving on to the Senate and then to the voters to fund the Coliseum Authority in this exciting opportunity!”