The commission approved yet another wrinkle in the deal to build an arena at the Classic Center that has ballooned to almost $200 million—one that could jeopardize the chances of keeping the county courthouse downtown.
The latest permutation of the plan involves a private developer building a 1,000-spot parking deck near the Multimodal Center, rather than a 500-space deck jointly owned by the Classic Center (an independent quasi-governmental agency) and the ACC government. The larger deck would leave less than an acre of land on a site commissioners had previously eyed for a new courthouse.
“I could go along with 500 spaces, but I can’t in conscience vote for 1,000 spaces and make it practically impossible to keep our courthouse downtown in one step,” said Russell Edwards, the only commissioner to vote against the change order.
A site selection committee is considering multiple potential locations in and around downtown for the judicial center, Commissioner Melissa Link said. She also asked whether some courthouse functions could replace retail space atop the new deck. “It’s possible, but probably more unlikely,” Manager Blaine Williams responded.
The $78 million SPLOST-funded judicial center is already being scaled back due to drastically higher construction costs than when it was approved in 2020. It’s intended to replace the overcrowded current courthouse, which would then be filled with city government offices now scattered across the city.
Likewise, the 6,500-seat arena project, originally budgeted at $80 million, is now $135 million—a figure that no longer includes the deck, Williams told commissioners. $34 million is coming from SPLOST, with the rest cobbled together from municipal bonds, land leases, naming rights, vendor contracts, future tax revenue and other sources.
Commissioner Carol Myers bemoaned the deal’s ever-growing complexity. “I have a responsibility to keep on top of it, but I don’t feel like I’m completely on top of it, despite reading so much,” she said.
The deck will be privately built because lenders are reluctant to let ACC borrow more money for the project, Williams said. The Classic Center will purchase 41% of the spaces within the deck for arena use. Because it will be privately owned, the deck will also generate taxes that could be plowed back into the project through an existing tax allocation district encompassing the eastern edge of downtown.
Commissioner Jesse Houle said he had mixed feelings but voted yes because the Classic Center also put a $15.85 minimum wage in writing. Commissioner Tim Denson also voted yes after adding language guaranteeing that the project will include affordable housing.
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