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A step closer to funding the new James Brown Arena

A bill to cover the cost to build a new James Brown Arena is making its way through the Georgia Legislature.

Meetings in Atlanta earlier this year gave Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority members the opportunity to ask state lawmakers to support a new, half a penny sales tax for the project.

“We went before a sales tax committee, just to tell them about our project, what we’re doing and why we wanted to have (half) penny sales tax added to build a new arena,” said Brad Usry, chairman of the authority’s new JBA subcommittee. “Before we got through our presentation, they said we understand the need, and y’all done a good job, your due diligence, and we support 100%.”

The proposal next went to the full committee, and it passed unanimously. It passed the full house on March 2 with a 165-7 vote. It passed the second reading in Georgia Senate on March 20. If approved, it will go to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

While the new JBA will anchor the new complex, it is just one step of the three-part construction plan. It also includes a connector between the new arena and the Bell Auditorium.

The third component is a major renovation and upgrade to the Bell. The authority voted last June to move forward with that part of the overall project.

It includes adding men’s and women’s restrooms, renovating the dressing rooms and green rooms and adding an elevator to connect the green rooms with the stage.

The project has a guaranteed maximum price of $17.5 million, approved by the coliseum authority. The work is being done by McKnight Construction of Augusta and J&B Construction of Grovetown. Perkins & Will from Atlanta is the architect.

The money will come from the $25 million the authority received from the county’s SPLOST 8, approved by voters in March 2021.

H.B. Brantley, project executive consultant and owner’s representative, anticipates closing the Bell after Masters Week to begin the work. He expects it will re-open by June 2024.

While the Bell is closed, the JBA will remain open to host events and concerts.

Anchored by a new James Brown Arena and including major renovations to Bell Auditorium, the project has an estimated cost of $240 million.

Richmond County voters soundly defeated a Nov. 2, 2021, referendum calling for a property tax increase to pay for the project.

That’s when the idea of a Coliseum Special Local Option Sales Tax, or C-SPLOST, started.

H.B 230 was introduced to the House Ways and Means Committee by Rep. Mark Newton with Reps. Brian Prince, Gloria Frazier, Lynn Gladney and Karlton Howard listed as co-sponsors.

Specifically, the C-SPLOST referendum on the ballot would read: “Shall a special 0.5 percent sales and use tax be imposed in the special district of ____________ for a period of time not to exceed __________ and for the raising of not more than $________ for the purpose of funding coliseum capital outlay projects and project costs?”

If approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, details of the tax, including how long it will be in effect and how much money would be raised, will be fleshed out by the local government.

Usry said the unified support of the local delegation, Democrat and Republican, is vital.

“Without the whole delegation, we couldn’t get it done and it takes them to sell the whole rest of the legislature in the Senate for them to support us and they’ve done a hell of a job getting it done,” Usry said. “They’re working together to help us do this for Augusta.”

Usry said if the referendum is approved to go on the ballot, the authority members must work to educate Richmond County voters why it is important and how the tax will impact them.

“The good thing about a sales tax is 40% of the sales tax collected is paid for people outside of Augusta in the region. But it also kind of reflects the people that buy tickets. So, the people that are actually using the new arena would be the people that are paying for it, not just Augustans. We just got to brand it so that the people in Augusta-Richmond County understand that and they are supportive,” he said.

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