The James Brown Arena is shown in the distance behind trees and a car stopped at a traffic light.

The James Brown Arena in Augusta has been called "functionally obsolete." A maintenance worker died there in November. The cause of his death is still under investigation.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Augusta’s James Brown Arena on Wednesday will host its first event since a maintenance worker died there last month.

While the cause of the death remains under investigation, initial reports blamed it on a gas leak from a heating and cooling system.

And while arena officials say the aging structure, built in the 1970s, is safe, they also call it “functionally obsolete” and have been working for years to replace it.

“You have these building systems that, quite frankly, they don’t make parts for them anymore,” said HB Brantley, the project consultant and a representative for the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority. “The building systems are not as efficient as current building systems.”

The arena also doesn’t have the space and amenities of more modern ones.

Coliseum Authority board chairman Cedric Johnson said events will continue to take place there while he and other Augusta-Richmond County officials put together a financing package to replace it.

“I plan to have my family there with children to show that I am very confident that what happened was just an accident,” Johnson said. “We are monitoring everything that needs to be monitored to make sure those old systems are safe.”

In 2021, local voters rejected a property tax increase to pay for a new arena, which was estimated at the time to cost $250 million.

The cost likely is higher now due to inflation.

Following the vote, officials said that they didn’t believe that voters rejected the idea of a new arena, just the proposed funding mechanism for it.

“We heard the voters speak and we think we have a funding strategy that might be palatable that we’ll be bringing back to the voters in 2023,” Brantley said.

The new funding mechanism could include a half-penny special purpose local option sales tax and a per-ticket fee to reduce debt service, Johnson said.

In the meantime, the James Brown Arena, named for the Augusta-born R&B legend, continues to bolster the local economy by filling hotels and restaurants.

Tonight’s draw will be a matchup between basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters and Washington Wizards, followed in February by the “Monster Truck Nitro Tour.”

The maintenance worker who died was identified as 66 year-old Rex Broadwater of Hepzibah, whose memorial service was held last Saturday.