Wed, June 12, 2024

Kemp visits Augusta and signs off on legislation to build new James Brown Arena

Gov. Brian Kemp was in Augusta yesterday to sign House Bill 230, which clears the way for a referendum where Richmond County voters can fund an Augusta Entertainment Complex, anchored by a new James Brown Arena.

The bill, passed during the 2023 session of Georgia General Assembly, clears the way for a referendum to go before Richmond County voters creating a half cent Coliseum Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or C-SPLOST that will be added to goods and services purchased in the county.

“That facility, well over four decades old, helps bring major events tourism and economic development opportunities to the city and the surrounding area,” Kemp said. “It is a valued asset of this region. And it will be the people’s right to decide how best to take care of it.”

The search for an alternate way to fund the project became necessary when Richmond County voters soundly defeated a Nov. 2, 2021 referendum calling for a property tax increase to pay for it.

The next step is up to Augusta Commissioners. They must choose when to put it on the ballot. It is anticipated that will be in November.

“We have such an amazing opportunity to grow this city and the James Brown Arena renovation is at the center of that,” said District One Commission Jordan Johnson.” “I don’t want us to miss the mark and I hope that the voters will grant us the opportunity to move forward.”

Coliseum Authority Chairman Cedric Johnson said “Voters will have the ultimate decision on building a new arena. This will create hundreds of new jobs, sustain downtown businesses, and inject billions into the local economy.”

The project has an estimated price tag of $240 million. An amendment added in the state senate caps it at $250 million. HB 230 also provides for the C-SPLOST to sunset, to end when the funding cap is reached.

Brad Usry, chairman of the authority’s New JBA Subcommittee, said the authority, supporters of the C-SPLOST and those who back the project now have a job cut out for them, to show Richmond County voters why they should vote in favor of the referendum.

“Hopefully by November they will know why this is an economic opportunity, jobs in the area, and can show what we can bring with a new arena.  I think it’s an easy sale. We just got to get out there and show folks,” he said.

“We’re not asking them to let us raise their property taxes. I think that’s the big difference,” explained Commissioner Johnson. “And it’s not only just paid for by just the residents. It’s also people from all over the state that come to enjoy Augusta.”

Usry said at least 40% of the money raised will come from people coming to Augusta to shop, spend money on entertainment, and other services.

The overall project also includes major renovations to the Bell Auditorium, currently underway. Those renovations are funded by $25 million the authority received from the county’s SPLOST 8, approved by voters in March 2021. A concourse will connect the two buildings.

Kemp also signed HB 128 which will increase access to state procurement opportunities by minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses. Kemp said it will cut red tape, support small businesses and increase competition within the procurement process.

The third bill the governor signed, Senate Bill 213, allows property owners to replace existing manufactured homes with a new one without facing “bureaucratic restrictions.” He said it will be especially beneficial to those who lose their home in a natural disaster.

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