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Construction Has Begun on New $130M Classic Center Arena in Athens, Ga.

Thu May 05, 2022 - Southeast Edition
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Currently dubbed the “Classic Center Arena,” the venue will be the largest in the Athens area unconnected to the University of Georgia (UGA).(Classic Center rendering)
Currently dubbed the “Classic Center Arena,” the venue will be the largest in the Athens area unconnected to the University of Georgia (UGA).(Classic Center rendering)

A ceremonial groundbreaking on April 28 in Athens, Ga., signaled the beginning of construction on a new $130 million arena in the city — one designed to seat up to 8,500 attendees.

Currently dubbed the "Classic Center Arena," it will likely have a new corporate sponsor name attached to it by the time it opens in the fall of 2023, if the building schedule hold, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The multi-purpose arena is being built for sports events, large conventions and concerts.

The venue will be by far the largest in the Athens area unconnected to the University of Georgia (UGA).

Athens' 25-year-old Classic Center Theatre can handle approximately 2,100 people while the Georgia Theatre fits approximately 1,000. On the UGA campus, by comparison, the university's 60-year-old Stegeman Coliseum, an arena with a capacity of about 10,000 seats, is primarily used for school activities like Bulldogs' basketball games, commencements, and convocations.

Paul Cramer, president and CEO of the Classic Center, explained to the Atlanta news source that inflation has raised the price tag of the project from $70 million to about $130 million. But he said the developers of the venue have the money, culled from a mix of state funding, revenue bonds backed by Athens-Clarke County, private partnership funding and sponsorships.

J.E. Dunn Construction, with an office in Atlanta, and Impact Construction Management LLC, based in the Georgia capital, have each partnered with Athens to get the arena built.

A Rich Variety of Attractions Will Make Arena Popular

The new arena is being built adjacent to the Classic Center Theatre, taking up unused land that hugs the Oconee River. There also are plans for a new hotel and other mixed-use projects in the vicinity, the newspaper learned. Don Dethlefs, a principal at Denver, Co.-based Perkins+Will, one of the architecture firms involved in the current project, said the arena should be able to handle most larger music acts that up until now could not be accommodated in Athens, such as Bon Jovi and the Eagles.

The arena's closest competitor will be Duluth's Gas South Arena, which has a capacity of up to 13,000 people, and is about an hour's drive west of Athens toward Atlanta.

Classic Center Arena General Manager Danny Bryant told the Journal-Constitution that he has already signed deals for 65 events, among which are two cheerleading competitions, a robotics event, and a regional hockey championship tournament. He hopes to fill the arena with 125 events a year covering 300 days, including 25 concerts.

The arena also will be home to the relocated Georgia Music Hall of Fame, which shut down in 2011 in Macon. Costumes, instruments and video and sound footage by the likes of James Brown, Ray Charles and R.E.M. that have been stored in a basement at the UGA library archives can now be displayed around the concourse, he added.

In addition, UGA's Ice Dawgs hockey team and a future ECHL minor league hockey franchise also are set to play in the Classic Center Arena.

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