Athens set to open $130 million arena

Paul Cramer, president and CEO of the Classic Center, shepherded the $130 million arena project, which is set to open in the fall of 2023.

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Paul Cramer, president and CEO of the Classic Center, shepherded the $130 million arena project, which is set to open in the fall of 2023.

Venue to hold up to 8,500 people at a time

The city of Athens held a ceremonial ground breaking for Thursday on a new $130 million arena that can accommodate 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 it stays on schedule. The multi-purpose arena is designed for sports, large conventions and concerts.

The arena will be by far the largest venue in the Athens area unconnected to the University of Georgia. The 25-year-old Classic Center Theatre can handle about 2,100 people while the nearby Georgia Theatre fits about 1,000. (The 60-year-old Stegeman Coliseum, the university arena of about 10,000 seats, is primarily used for school activities like UGA basketball games, commencements and convocations.)

The new arena will be adjacent to the Classic Center Theatre, taking up unused land that hugs the Oconee River. There are also plans for a new hotel and other mixed-use projects in the vicinity.

Don Dethlefs, a principal at Denver-based Perkins+Will, one of the architecture firms involved, said the arena should be able to handle most larger music acts that up until now couldn’t 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, about an hour drive west toward Atlanta.

Danny Bryant, general manager for the new arena, said he has already signed deals for 65 events including two cheer 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 about 25 concerts.

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

The arena will also be home to assets from the 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 University of Georgia library archives can now be displayed around the concourse.

It will also be home to the University of Georgia’s Ice Dawgs hockey team and a future ECHL minor league hockey franchise.

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