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More on conference center controversy

POSTED: May 11, 2008 5:00 a.m.



With regard to the proposed conference center, the reason for all the controversy is the change in scope and location – from a convention and aquatic center on Brisbon Road to a conference center and hotel at J.F. Gregory Park.

The first public mention of a hotel was at a city council meeting where an artist's rendering was presented. A few days later at an Arts on the Coast meeting, the mayor again presented the rendering of the conference center and indicated the location of a possible hotel.

The mayor, in a recent article, stated that Richmond Hill is in need of a facility large enough to hold events for special interest and local groups as well as residents' needs to accommodate weddings, etc. I fully agree. I also agree with the mayor that the old primary school, located off Hwy. 144 and Constitution Way (behind historical St. Anne's Catholic Church) would serve as a great cultural arts center. The mayor has stated at a city council meeting that the city manager met with the board of education regarding acquiring this building for a cultural arts center. The board of education was in agreement; the city approved monies to perform an engineering study of the structure. The old primary school consists of two buildings, one is a large gym and the other consists of various sized classrooms. I believe that this facility would more economically suit the needs of both the convention center and the cultural arts center, whether it be through an outright purchase or a long term lease. Richmond Hill does not have to build a new convention center, when refurbishing the old school would serve all purposes.

It was mentioned at the April meeting of the city council that the aquatic center in the park, rather than a conference center, would be more suited to the residents' needs. At this same meeting a petition was presented to the council requesting a new vote due to the change of project and location. The council's reply was to exhibit a copy of the original ballot – which mentioned no location or the true substance of the plan. As the mayor pointed out, the ballot was a broad statement. That does not alter the fact that the mayor and Floyd Hilliard went door to door shaking city residents' hands stating they were building an aquatic and conference center on Brisbon Road. They confirmed this with a publicity photo of a ground breaking ceremony at the Brisbon Road site. Now, they don't feel an obligation to honor their word. At this April council meeting, the mayor dismissed the opposition and also mentioned that the petition may be illegal. I'd like to inform the mayor that the First Amendment not only affords the right to free speech, but also the right to petition. The Supreme Court has upheld that state, city, county and municipal agencies must honor these rights.

In closing, I'd like to thank the Bryan County News for favoring a public hearing. Let's follow this with another public vote on the issue – this time completely outlining the scope and location of the project.

Darryl Petermann

Peterman is a Richmond Hill resident who ran for a city council seat in 2007.

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