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Chris Gay: New arena site selection sounds familiar

Posted: September 5, 2017 - 10:29pm

Let me see if I have this correct.

Expensive survey? Check. Recommendation by various experts? Check. Total disregard for the results? Check.

The last time someone with perceived power in our area decided to deceive the community - in sports terms it's called a "head fake" - Ricardo Azziz had taken over as president of the merger of the poorly-named Georgia Health Sciences University and Augusta State University. He sought a new name for this new creation. After a $45,000 survey was conducted, the top result was "University of Augusta." When it came time to make a proposal to the board of regents, Azziz didn't say the name "University of Augusta." Instead, he nominated the gangly "Georgia Regents University," which the board of regents gave their tramp stamp of approval.

You know how all this played out.

Fast forward five years. Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis is the main person pushing for a new arena at the site of the former Regency Mall. Last week, the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum voted, 4-2, to build a new arena there. According to a $142,000 survey, Regency Mall was No. 4 out of five proposed locations around the county. What was No. 5? The Phinizy Swamp?

I'm as familiar with that area as anybody. I grew up in Blythe, about 15 minutes from the Regency Mall, which is being labeled as the "geographic center" of the county. My grandparents often took me to the Krystal near the mall en route to my grandfather's visits to the V.A. back in the 1970s. As a child, I bought my comic books from the Book Exchange in Southgate Plaza. Later, I spent many days playing and working at the Putt-Putt on Gordon Highway. And yes, I spent plenty of time at that mall, shopping and watching movies like Gremlins there.

I still drive by the area from time to time. Every year, I order my basketball team's trophies from a place about a par-5 from the old mall. The trophy shop is one of the few places still alive around there that isn't a car dealership, nail salon or tattoo parlor.

(Side question: If this is the geographic center of Augusta, why is it called "South Augusta?" Shouldn't it be "Middle Augusta"?)

Now, Hardie Azziz, errr Davis, wants to reinvigorate the area with a $100 million-plus arena. This reminds me of politicians wanting to throw more taxpayer money into bad school districts when money isn't the issue. If that were the case, there'd be more well-educated children in Richmond County, which spends $9,877 per child per a 2016 report from NPR, than Columbia County ($8,462).

We know that's not the case, though. You can read more about that here: http://www.npr.org/2016/04/18/474256366/why-americas-schools-have-a-mone...

I laughed when I read reports of the new James Brown Arena being labeled a "sports arena." I've covered arenafootball2 in James Brown Arena and it's failed. I've covered some various forms of ice hockey in the arena and it's failed. I've covered other sports there. The only sport that has packed the house is bull riding and that's one night a year.

So if Augusta builds a $100 million-plus arena, are we going to get a semi-pro basketball team no one wants to see? Another Arena Football team? Another ice hockey team? And where are the visiting teams going to stay? At one of those $40-a-night places along Gordon Highway?

Some folks are fighting to keep the James Brown Arena downtown. One of them is Brad Usry, the coliseum authority vice chairman. He's also the man who wrote two letters to the editor in support of the name "Georgia Regents University" when the vast majority of Augustans were planting "Save the A" signs in their front yards. Politics, as the old cliche goes, makes strange bedfellows.

Keep an eye on this controversy. As someone who played baseball in south Augusta (Fleming Park) and worked at the old Roses department store on Peach Orchard Road, I'd like to see revitalization come to the area as much as anyone. Will a new arena do this? I've been in journalism long enough to be plenty skeptical.

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NO KHAKIS REQUIRED: Quarterback Jake Fromm, aka Jake from State Fromm as his Twitter name goes, looked sharp in his Georgia debut Saturday. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of Jacob Eason's knee injury. Coach Kirby Smart said Eason's knee sprain, something that will not require surgery, will force the sophomore signal caller to miss this week's contest at Notre Dame.

Las Vegas bookmakers aren't sold on Fromm, listing the Irish as an initial 6.5-point favorite. Maybe those guys know something, but the true freshman will perform a steady diet of handoffs to two of the better backs in the nation in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. And Fromm gets a week to prepare with the first team. I fully expect him to be prepared Saturday evening.

If Fromm performs well, expect a full-blown quarterback controversy. Georgia's next big game will take place Sept. 30, when the Bulldogs travel to play Tennessee. A lot can happen in a month. Let's see how Saturday shakes out first.

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PIGSKIN PICKS: If you're not competing against me in the Pigskin Picks, you should. I was only 6-3 entering Monday's contest with Georgia Tech and Tennessee. I picked the Volunteers.

I picked against our two private schools on the road and I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. Kudos to Augusta Christian for picking up a big win at Calhoun Falls Charter after losing big at home two weeks ago to Augusta Prep.

As for the Cavaliers, they're the real deal. I think Augusta Prep is going to take care of business the next two weeks to set up a region-opening showdown against undefeated Gatewood on Sept. 22 in Augusta.

The other game I missed was Grovetown defeating Lincoln County. That game was a coin flip. The Red Devils only have about 30-something players on their team - that's shocking to me - but the talent is there. Lincoln County is going to have a great season.

As for the Warriors, they're going to be tough this year, too. I think they're easily a playoff team. But can they put it together and contend for a region title? Evans, Greenbrier and Heritage might have something to say about that.

And let's not forget Harlem. The Bulldogs are 2-0 entering this week's road contest at Greenbrier. Harlem's backfield of A.J. Brown and Cameron Garnett will face their toughest defense of the season in the Wolfpack.

If the Bulldogs pass this test, watch out.

 

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