Business leaders push for approval of new James Brown Arena

Published: Nov. 3, 2023 at 12:02 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The answer is simple. Either yes or no to the James Brown Arena.

With election day around the corner, there is a growing debate across Augusta.

Businesses in Downtown Augusta say the arena will boost business, but others are torn.

Either they aren’t thrilled with the location, or they just don’t want even a half penny more in new taxes.

“I call it lipstick on a pig,” said Tony Stephens.

The big question is, is the tax worth it?

Tony Stephens has lived in Augusta his entire life. He said, “I’m just not buying into all of this. I think this is something very important to the restaurant and the nightclub owners downtown.”

This November, it’s up to more than 129K voters if there will be a new arena.

Penelope Ballas-Stewart, fourth-generation owner of Luigi’s, said: “Luigi’s has been here for four generations. I would love to see it continue in the same spot for four more generations. But if things don’t continue to progress, then eventually downtown is going to fizzle out. There is an energy here right now that we need to capitalize on.”

People like Mark Albertin say other priorities are more important.

“We have some real issues with our downtown. We have issues with parking. We have problems with people wandering around. Since I was waiting for you here, I’ve had one person already come and ask me for money... that’s frightening to people,” said Albertin.

Coco Rubio owns Soul Bar downtown and said those fixes for downtown are already underway. He feels the tax is worth it.

“We’re in the process right now of a streetscape downtown. All that is being addressed. We do need more parking decks and things like that, but that’s all going to happen,” said Rubio.

While others are wanting to pump the brakes.

“I just can’t feel like I can invest more money or put even that small amount of sales tax increase into something that’s not going to solve the problem that we need fixed,” said Albertin.

But everyone agrees you should show up to weigh in.

“Whether you agree with me or not, we could do better than three to 5% a turnout. If you’re not voting, that’s just sorry, folks,” said Stephens.

Economic leaders from across Augusta joined on one front Friday morning to ask voters to vote yes on the James Brown Arena half-penny sales tax.

The chairman of the Augusta Metro Chamber led the efforts saying building a new arena to replace the outdated one is critical in attracting new amenities to the area and to better address the needs of the area.

“Our existing employers battle recruitment and retaining employees – the same battle we fight with similar cities to recruit and retain we hear on a daily basis, the battle of finding talent and bringing them to Augusta,” said Dennis Trotter, chairman of the Augusta Metro Chamber. “The new arena with first-class acts and first-class entertainment is a key component.”

The election on Tuesday would impose a half-penny sales tax on every dollar of sales. Supporters note that much of that would be paid by shoppers who live elsewhere but buy products in Augusta.

The election comes after passage of special state legislation, House Bill 230, to allow the public to vote on the tax.

The law gets around some of the problems of a SPLOST measure to build a new arena, like the one local voters rejected last year.

Early voting wraps up Friday on the tax.

In Richmond County, voting is from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. at either the municipal building in the Linda Beazley Room, Warren Road Recreation Center, Robert Howard Community Center, or the Charles Evans Community Center.

On Tuesday, p[olls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Here’s a look at advance voting figures so far: