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The Augusta Chronicle (Georgia)
A proposal to rebuild James Brown Arena at the vacant Regency Mall site lives on after an Augusta Commission committee gridlocked on motions to reject or approve the plan Tuesday.
"Nothing changed in my mind to make a different decision today," Mayor Pro Tem Mary Davis said after casting her third vote against the proposal Tuesday.
"I think it's time for the Coliseum Authority to review what the architect brought them as far as the best locations and make an alternative decision than Regency Mall," she said.
The 2-2 ties mean the controversial proposal - to build at Regency, seek a funding source and continue negotiations with mall owner Cardinal Management - moves to the full commission next week without a recommendation.
Commissioner Marion Williams returned the matter to the commission administrative services committee despite the commission's 7-1 vote last week to reject the deal with Cardinal.
"I put this back so we can at least get a site location, not the deal but the site location, so we can at least start negotiations," Williams said. "If we don't come to a happy negotiation, we don't do anything."
Cardinal's offer, approved by Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority last month, gives the authority 10 acres on which to build an arena, but requires the city abate all taxes, construct and maintain parking, and allow Cardinal to retain development rights around the arena. The commission has the final say on funding a project currently estimated at $120 million.
Williams said he thought last week's 5-5 tie to proceed at Regency, which was broken by Mayor Hardie Davis but later undone when Commissioner Ben Hasan said he'd voted in error, was on the right track.
"The site location is what we talked about last week and everybody was almost excited about it, and we wound up changing," Williams said.
Commissioner Dennis Williams, who opposes the Regency plan, quickly moved to reject Williams' motion, but Regency arena supporter Andrew Jefferson made a substitute motion to approve it. The substitute also failed 2-2, with Marion Williams and Jefferson in favor.
"I think the deal is not a very good deal, but I think the site is a great location. It's centrally located and it's something that area can rally around," Jefferson said.
Supporters of a downtown site say moving to Regency could hurt downtown's momentum. Jefferson said the Gordon Highway mall area needs a lift.
"It's been blighted for 20 years and now you have something that's going to make a difference," he said.
The retired Augusta Technical College administrator envisioned more than an arena for concerts: an expansive meeting center with spaces for shows, basketball tournaments, a hockey team and banquets, at Regency.
"It's multiuse throughout the year," he said.
Jefferson compared the facility to the Macon Centreplex and said the local government can exercise eminent domain, and take the property - with a judge signing off on its sale value - if negotiations fail.
"If negotiations fail, there's always eminent domain. That way we won't overspend," he said.
The mayor, who cultivated a relationship with Cardinal that led to the proposal and tried to block Hasan's motion to reconsider last week, refused to comment on the plan before Tuesday's called commission legal session and committee meetings. He left before the committee vote Tuesday.
In another matter, the full commission agreed after a called legal session to set a Jan. 16 deadline for an actuary to detail the cost of increasing the multiplier used to calculate employee retirement benefits.
Pushed by city public safety workers, the Georgia Municipal Employee Benefits System program multiplier affects all city employee participants and "should have been addressed years ago," Augusta Fire Capt. Charlie Coleman said before the vote.
Other city workers who gathered for the vote expressed support for the firefighters who pushed for the change.
Also Tuesday, a commission committee approved continuing the study of reusing the former Joint Law Enforcement Center at 401 Walton Way as a juvenile jail, court facility and vocational center.
Chief Superior Court Judge Carl C. Brown said the juvenile court system, which was omitted from the new courthouse and recently forced to relocate from rented space downtown, needs the entire high-rise jail.
"We need 401, every inch of it, to help us address these many challenges," Brown said.
The committee authorized Part A of a plan developed by Cranston Engineering Group to determine if the building, plagued by moisture problems since it opened, is feasible to reuse. Part A's cost is $23,600. If feasible, the plan's Part B, to determine the scope of renovations needed, will cost $68,200.
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