Local officials sought a forward-looking design for the planned arena. (Perkins & Will)

Replacement planned for 40-year-old Georgia facility

The lengthy process to replace 40-year-old James Brown Arena took a step forward recently when officials in Augusta, Ga., publicly shared the concept design and renderings from architect Perkins & Will.

The Denver-based sports design firm has worked on the $228 million job over the past four years under its original contract signed in September 2016, according to project designer Mike Harvey. 

“The politics made for a long site selection process in 2017 and ’18, and then it went on hold for about a year,” Harvey said.

As it stands, there is no financing plan in place. Officials are considering using sales tax revenue and issuing bonds as options to pay for construction, The Augusta Chronicle reported. 

Harvey said the project is driven by the fact that James Brown Arena doesn’t attract a lot of events beyond local graduations. In addition, the roof and foundation have maintenance issues and the venue doesn’t have the rigging capacity required of modern arenas, he said.

“They feel like they’re missing out on a lot of tours,” Harvey said.

James Brown Arena

Plans call for the $228 million arena to open in 2024. (Perkins & Will)

Spectra has run James Brown Arena and Bell Auditorium next door since 2008. The arena has no sports tenant, but the new venue could potentially attract a team, he said. The project cost covers a $4 million ice system.

Harvey said the vision is to tear down the old arena and build a new facility on site that connects to the auditorium. The 10,000-seat arena and 2,800-seat theater both opened in 1980. The new arena and the auditorium would share a box office, commissary and loading docks. 

The total cost extends to upgrading auditorium concessions and restrooms, he said. 

The timeline, pending financing, is to open the new arena in 2024. 

James Brown, the dynamic soul artist who grew up in Augusta and for whom the arena is named, inspired the concept design. The Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority desired a forward-looking design to make a splash, said Ernest Joyner, principal-in-charge.

“We watched some film of James Brown on stage and the way that he moved, especially his microphone stand that he would use as a wonderful prop,” Joyner said. “He would tip it down and back up and swing it around like a dance partner. It became this really powerful diagonal.”

Brown’s cape routine also inspired the design. The “amorphous” roof structure drapes over the new arena, which also incorporates some of the historic brick look and traditional art deco design of the auditorium, Joyner said.

The authority’s goal is to sell naming rights to the new arena to help fund construction, while retaining the James Brown name within the official title, he said.

The concept design calls for 10,000 seats for an end stage configuration with about a dozen suites and 1,000 club seats. Those numbers are preliminary estimates tied to market research completed by Hunden Strategic Partners.

The new James Brown Arena is Perkins & Will’s second arena project in Georgia. In Savannah, the architect is designing a midsize facility with a total cost of $165 million. The 9,000-seat arena is under construction and expected to open in the first quarter of 2022.

Oak View Group, owner of VenuesNow, will manage the Savannah arena.