Augusta leaders want you to approve a new JBA
RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. - Augusta business leaders came together Friday morning encouraging citizens to vote for the C-SPLOST voter referendum. The special election would impose a half penny sales tax to fund construction of a new James Brown Arena.
It's the first time the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, Augusta Economic Development Authority, Augusta Sports Council, Augusta Tomorrow, Downtown Development Authority and Destination Augusta have joined to publicly promote a project. "I can't recall in my recent history...all these organizations represented here being charged with such a similar mission being on the same page and unanimously in support of such a project," Dennis Trotter, Chairman of The Augusta Metro Chamber says.
All 10 commissioners are also on the same page, unanimously agreeing to support the project. Some of their constituents, on the other hand, are not.
With a little over 3,000 advanced votes cast so far, Richmond County could set a record low for turnout.
Michael Thurman represents what he calls the silent majority of those who have voted "no." He believes it's not a financially feasible decision for Augusta. "There's so many things that we could do to promote our city, spending $10, $20, $50 million, instead of $500 million."
The new state of the art entertainment facility would replace the aging one that's been called functionally obsolete. With additional seating and improved customer experience, it's priced at $433 million.
"It's the biggest project in Augusta's history," Brad Usry, the New Arena Committee Chairman says. "We have the opportunity to fund this thing...40% is going to be paid for by people outside the county. This is not a stand alone project, it needs to be a catalyst to bring more private investment downtown."
To fund the project, Richmond County citizens will need to vote "yes" to the half-penny sales tax, some argue, isn't much to fund Augusta's future.
"It;s not going to hurt me that much, but when you're making $7.25 an hour, that extra bit to buy food in the grocery stores that can add up to someone who's got a very tight budget," Thurman says.
Thurman says he doesn't want to stop progress. But, believes there are more pressing issues that need to be addressed first: increased pay for police, better roads, lack of sidewalks, grass maintenance and an overcrowded jail are just a few.
He says the area has never been able to support anything of this magnitude, referencing Golf and Gardens as well as the hockey and indoor football teams that didn't stick.
For now, he believes the current arena should be renovated for a much smaller price tag.
Regardless of how you plan to vote, Thurman encourages those who haven't early cast their ballots to show up on general election day on November 7th.
"If you will go and vote on this, you will prove to the commission that you are still paying attention, that they cannot just go and spend half a billion dollars without you having better information and without your voice being there."
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