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Amphitheater project gets nod
Preliminary sketch of the amphitheater stage.

The decision was made at Tuesday’s Richmond Hill city council meeting to proceed with the construction of the amphitheater project inside J.F. Gregory Park, but not without a bit of controversy. Mayor Richard Davis’s affirmative vote to move forward settled a split decision among council members.

Upon completion, the project will be a venue for future concerts in the park. It is slated to accommodate attendance figures of 5,000-6,000 people.

Mayor Pro-tem Floyd Hilliard and councilmember JoAnn Bickley both wanted to delay the project, citing questionable quality with the plans and concern that construction may not be completed in time for the October’s Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival.

The design presented Tuesday was a scaled down version from the one presented to council members in March, according to City Manager Mike Melton. After the original design was discovered to have come with $1.3 million price tag, Melton challenged the construction company, Lavender and Associates, to come up a more affordable plan.

"We’ve cut the original bid down to about half," Melton said, which comes to just under $600,000. This includes $378,000 for the stage area, $20,000 for additional design fees, and around $200,000 for road improvements and site work. He said the money is already in the bank for this project, which has been accumulated via sales tax.

Changes between the current and original plans include the exclusion of hard seating and dressing rooms/restrooms for performers.

Bickley said the price tag is too high for the plans presented.

Hilliard said he would "love to see what other companies could do for that amount of money." Both asked for more time before moving forward with construction.

Councilman Jimmy Hires said improvements to the current plan would entail more money spent, and "I can’t see spending any more money on it right now." Mayor Davis added that improvements could be made to the venue in the future. Council member Marilyn Hodges also voted to move forward without further delay.

Melton said the project can be completed in 120 days and is slated to start next week.

In other council business:
- Mayor Davis pledged to grant $1,200 out of his annual Mayor’s contingency fund toward the city’s first ‘National Night Out’, slated for Aug. 4 at J.F. Gregory Park from 6:30-9 p.m.
RHPD Cpl. Susan Willis, who is coordinating the event, requested the funds to cover food costs and miscellaneous expenses. She said the event is coming together nicely. Already on tap are dance and martial arts exhibits, a bouncy playground and the distribution of literature about neighborhood safety.
Chief Billy Reynolds encourages attendees to be prepared to discuss any public safety questions and concerns with him or members of his department and said he is looking forward to communicating with city residents in this forum.
- Richmond Hill Fire Department Chief Vernon Rushing said the very first Firefighter One training course just concluded, which included 12 graduates. Six of which were current RHFD volunteers, which gives them full firefighter credentials.
- The brick house at the corner of Rushing Street and Ford Avenue was granted a permit to operate a plant nursery and offices. In addition a one-office web design business was approved for the location, which property owner Gregory Elmgren said is 95 percent geared toward international sales.
- Melton said the City Center is on track and should be open by December. He also said the city is about to begin its search for a qualified City Center Operator.
- Bryan County Drug Free Coalition Director Bill Collins addressed the mayor and council. Collins offered his services to city officials and commended Chief Reynolds for his continual anti-drug efforts.

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