It's official, sort of: Richmond County voters will decide June 21 whether to fund construction of a new arena in Augusta. Two days later, Columbia County's arena committee will find out whether they'll be dropping the idea, or picking up the ball and running with it.
Either way, it's looking more and more likely that the area will get a new entertainment and sports facility. While taxpayers may still be skeptical, Columbia County officials have taken exactly the right approach: Study, then educate.
Sure, there have been bumps in that road. Perhaps the lowest point was a few weeks ago, when some members of Columbia County's arena study committee sought to muzzle other members, pushing the idea of prohibiting any individual member from speaking to the media. The effort was mostly pointed at committee member and former county commissioner Frank Spears, who's never been shy about offering his opinion.
The effort, fortunately, never got any traction: As tough as the job will be to convince taxpayers to foot most of the bill for a $60-million-plus arena, the task will be nearly impossible if those taxpayers get even the slightest hint that arena boosters are trying to hide the discussion in the dark.
In fact, the only way this project will move forward at all is not only through full and open disclosure to everyone who will be paying the tab, but with a healthy amount of discussion to get the community to invest in the plans philosophically and financially. This secrecy stuff won't cut it.
Augusta hasn't done many things right lately, but putting the arena project on their June 21 referendum is one of the better ones (though we can't help but notice the decision came only in the absence of the county commission's three worst obstructionists).
If our neighboring citizens drop the ball at the polls -- and remember, they already fumbled this past year -- Columbia County's arena committee is suiting up in the locker room, getting ready to play.
They'll need more than cheerleaders to help sell the arena. But that's a start -- especially if those cheerleaders are free to cheer.
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