Playing guest-host on Austin Rhodes' radio show Friday proved a couple of things to me.
One, that there are far too many people with idle time on their hands. And two, that there is an awful lot of testosterone-fueled hostility out there in Radioland towards the idea of building an arena in Columbia County.
In fact, the majority of calls were from men dead-set against even talking about the idea of building an arena. But a couple of women called to support it, and the one supportive call from a male came from a guy who kept talking about going to "shows" with his "sweetheart," and sounded more gay than a Village People reunion.
County Administrator Steve Szablewski was a real sweetheart (and no, I don't mean it like that) to visit for a couple of hours to hear what callers had to say, and to try to set some of the misinformation, well, straight.
It's clear there is lots of misinformation around.
For one thing, Columbia County isn't planning to build an arena. Really. All they've done is put together a committee to study the idea. The 30-member committee, which included members who initially were dead-set against the concept, eventually and unanimously recommended that county commissioners (hold your breath!) study the idea more.
Yeah, I know. Pretty radical. So right now, to paraphrase a country song (sorry, I don't know the words to any show tunes), there's a lot more talk but not much action.
Also, there seems to be some sort of weird belief that either there is a planet on which civic centers are built exclusively and entirely as private, money-making enterprises, or that such facilities when built by the public "pay for themselves" with ticket sales.
The committee's suggestion for a Columbia County arena would get funding from the special-purpose, local-option sales tax. About $100 million would come from that source, and that money would be used to build the arena.
Sales of suites and individual tickets would bring in operating revenue, as would naming rights, concessions and souvenir sales, and probably the county's hotel-motel tax. And even if it's a wild success, the arena probably still wouldn't make money.
But guess what? Nor does Patriots Park, or Wildwood Park, or Goodale Park. Nor will the county's new $12 million library when it opens next year. Such facilities are community amenities, and don't pay their own way.
The difference, of course, is that an arena such as the one everyone's talking about would cost more than all these facilities combined. So even if all we ever do is window-shop the idea, the sticker shock is pretty hefty.
Besides: All this talk started when Augusta voters twice said no to the idea of them building a new arena, and now Augusta commissioners may decide to pour perfume on a hog by pumping nearly $30 million into their existing civic center.
Even though that's a terrible idea, it's not as if that's ever stopped Augusta commissioners before. A Civic Center face lift would be enough to doom any plans in Columbia County, as The Chronicle's Mike Ryan pointed out on the show, because there's no way two civic centers could be successful this close to each other.
What do I think about all this? I don't think Columbia County can afford it - which is another way of saying: I doubt the citizens, testosteroned-up or not, would want to pay for something this big and uncertain. And they're not going to study it, or listen to anyone who has, long enough to change their minds.
But hey, there's nothing wrong with talking about it, is there? Just as long as we don't have to sing or dance any show tunes.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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