Cost overruns on major construction projects are common, but an amendment has been approved to ensure that doesn’t happen in building the new James Brown Arena. The project has an estimated price tag of $240 million and the amendment caps it at $250 million. The project will create an Augusta Entertainment Complex anchored by the new arena and includes major renovations to the Bell Auditorium, currently underway. A concourse will connect the two buildings.
The Bill authorizing the construction fund has passed the Georgia Legislature and now awaits Governor Brian Kemp’s signature for the County Commission to move forward with a date to schedule an election date for voters to weigh in.
House Bill 230, calling for a Coliseum Special Local Option Sales Tax, or C-SPLOST, passed the Georgia Senate on March 27 by a vote of 43-11. It had passed the House 165-7 on March 2. However, the Senate added an amendment to the measure which was then approved by the House.
“There was an amendment made to maximize the construction costs at $250 million,” explained Brad Usry, chairman of the Coliseum Authority’s New JBA subcommittee.
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.
“They (lawmakers) wanted language to basically put our feet to the fire, so to speak,” said Usry. “And also, that this will sunset, this will end, once this debt is paid off. You know, people say, “if you start a tax, it will never end,’ this one by law has to end once the debt is paid.”
The referendum must be voted on by Richmond County registered voters. Board of Elections Executive Director, Travis Doss said it may require a special election.
“It is my understanding the commission is talking about a November Special Election. The latest version I have seen does not specify when, just that a special election will be called when a resolution is given,” he said.
Usry said before the referendum makes it to the ballot, authority members must work to educate Richmond County voters on the importance of the measure 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.
Usry said the complex can serve to attract top-tier talent, create new jobs and bolster local small businesses.
The renovations to the Bell will include adding restrooms, renovating the dressing rooms and green rooms, and adding an elevator to connect the green rooms with the stage.
That work will be done by McKnight Construction of Augusta and J&B Construction of Grovetown. Perkins & Will from Atlanta is the architect. It has a guaranteed maximum price of $17 million. 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.