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Thoughts on the conference center
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Dear Editor:


Richmond Hill is fortunate to have J.F. Gregory Park. This wide open green space showcases a sacred memorial, outstanding pavilion, sunny playground, wide open soccer field, John Stevens Wetlands Center for quiet community meetings and baby ducks swimming in the lagoons, often approaching visitors for food.

How many of you have experienced all or part of this peaceful haven?

Yesterday I walked the Nature Trails behind the park and awed in the peace and tranquility of a unique coastal setting, replete with the remnants of old rice fields from another era. Water fowl andsong birds greeted me and at least 15 other residents of Bryan County, strolling along with their children and dogs.

Whatever happened to the ""Wildlife Preserve" signs that were previously posted on several of the trees? Perhaps removed to make way for Mayor Davis to build his hotel?

Some may call it a Convention Center but I’ve never seen anything of the sort built down a small dead end road, on a postage stamp lot that appears to be little over an acre. It’s like putting an elephant on a lily pad, not a pretty site! And one that’s not likely to happen.

I wish I could say the same for the proposed construction. Also adversely effected by a ‘hotel’ built in this area is the upscale neighborhood of Mulberry, where residents tell me Mayor Davis "assured" them this area would not become commercial.

In talking with several long time residents of Bryan County, many have commented that they do not think the project is a good idea at J.F. Gregory Park. Some have said they think the money could be better spent and others said they don’t understand how the city can build only a conference center and not the promised aquatic center, since that’s what residents voted for.

Here, from the minutes of the city’s January 17, 2006 meeting:

"CITY RECORDS: UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 1.Presentation on Conference Center and Aquatic Center Project. Mr. Steve Burnett & Mr. Barry Hall gave a brief presentation on the proposed Conference Center/Aquatic Center. Mr. Burnett told Council if Mayor Davis and Council agree to move forward a lot of things needed to move forward in order to hopefully have a ribbon-cutting next year on this project. Mr. Burnett gave a project description, market assumptions, financial assumptions, structural/governance, with conclusions and recommendations. Mayor Davis thanked Mr. Burnett for his presentation. City Manager Melton told Council Mr. Wissmach was also present. Mr. Wissmach spoke briefly on the project. Mayor Davis read the resolution as follows: RESOLUTION: A RESOLUTION by the Mayor & City Council in & for the City of Richmond Hill, Georgia. WHEREAS: On July 20, 2004, the Mayor & City Council approve a motion to endorse the concept of a private/public partnership for the construction of a conference center/aquatic center; & WHEREAS: On February 15, 2005, following a presentation of the results of a project feasibility study, the Mayor & City Council approved a motion to move forward with the development of the conference center/aquatic center; & WHEREAS: On September 20, 2005 the citizens of Bryan County approved a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum, designating $1,565,000 for the construction & development of the conference center/aquatic center. NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT:1.The Mayor & City Council desires for the development & construction of the conference center/aquatic center to move forward in the most expedient manner possible; & 2. The City Manager, with the assistance of the project architect, is hereby directed to secure a proper deed & title to the conference center/aquatic center site; & 3. The project architect is hereby directed to proceed with the detail design of the conference center/aquatic center facility; & 4. The City Attorney is hereby directed to take necessary action to amend the City’s Code of Ordinances to reflect the incremental increase in the Hotel/Motel Tax levied within the City of Richmond Hill as authorized by Georgia Law; & 5. The City Manager is hereby directed to issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to secure the services of a qualified individual, firm or corporation to assist the City in securing long-term financing of the conference center/aquatic center facility. APPROVED: The 17th day of January, 2006."

Notice that this resolution always includes "Aquatic Center". The vote taxpayers cast that allows "OUR" SPLOST money to be spent was on a complete project, namely a "convention center and aquatic center".

Also in question are "the results of a feasibility study?" Where is that study and what does it have to do with this location?

Lots of difference in this and down the road. Is this legal? Where’s the "traffic study"? Think of the confusion we already have with an event in the park. Do we need to further congest the Cedar St. area?

There are other issues, too. Will this operate in the red and need taxpayer dollars for support?

Just for the Convention Center, a report shows the mortgage payment alone could be as high as $300,000.00 annually. Where will the mayor go for money to handle the burden, the taxpayers pocket? Again?

Community apathy is allowing a select few to destroy our community. What’s wrong with this picture?

J.F. Gregory Park is a beautiful part of our community. But not for long if concrete is allowed to continually swallow up more of our natural settings.

Think about it. Show up. Speak up.

With sincere hope for better consideration to be given to conservation for future planning and developing in Richmond Hill and Bryan County.

Lynda Morse

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