Augusta Business Daily

Thu, November 30, 2023

Renovations to the Bell Auditorium are now underway

Augusta will soon see a new entertainment hub as the first phase of a multi-million-dollar project is in the works on Telfair Street.

Work to renovate and upgrade the Bell Auditorium is easy to spot from the street with a construction crane and new steel girders around the building.

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This is one part of a three-step project, which also includes the construction of a new James Brown Arena and a concourse to connect the two buildings.

“In July, we were able to complete our concrete slab upgrade and start going vertical with the steel,” Davis Heigle of McKnight Construction told members of the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority during their meeting on July 25. “Once that steel is complete, we’ll begin filling in on the side with metal framing and we’ll also begin work on our roof.”

McKnight Construction of Augusta and J&B Construction of Grovetown were awarded the contract to renovate the Bell. The contract has a maximum guaranteed price of $17.5 million.

That money is coming from the $25 million the authority received from the county’s SPLOST 8, which was approved by voters in March 2021.

Among the improvements are the addition of more restrooms, renovating the dressing rooms and green rooms, and adding an elevator to connect those rooms to the stage.

Heigle said demolition work has started inside the building, clearing the way for the improvements and additions. Demolition and framing work are underway on the first floor.

“We’re working on excavating and putting in deep foundations for our elevator pit for the elevator that will be used for talent going forward,” she explained. “Looking forward to August, what you’ll start to see inside is demolition and framing will be completed throughout the space for the new restrooms, the club, the speakeasy, that new elevator, and all new dressing rooms. Our mechanical, electrical, and plumbing subcontractor will start putting all of the utilities in the walls and they’ll complete the dressing rooms and about half of the first floor during the month of August.”

H.B. Brantley, project executive consultant and owner’s representative, said the project remains on schedule and on budget. He expects the Bell will re-open by June 2024.

Authority members also approved up to $20,000 for Hunden Partners to update the original economic impact figures and financial projections.

“Because those numbers were done pre-pandemic, we want to see where we actually are post-pandemic for the most part,” Brantley explained. “And I think it’s going to take about a month to do that work.”

Still ahead is a $250 million bond referendum that will go before Richmond County voters to pay for the construction of the new JBA and the concourse with sales tax money.

Last November, Richmond County voters soundly defeated a referendum calling for a property tax increase to pay for the project.

The coliseum authority turned to members of the local delegation to the Georgia Legislature with an alternative way to fund the project.

House Bill 230 created a Coliseum Special Local Option Sales Tax, or C-SPLOST, of half a cent to collect the funds. It passed the Georgia Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp.

An end to the special sales tax for the project was built into the legislation. The tax will sunset once the debt is paid off.

A special election is scheduled for the vote on November 7.

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