The City Council on Monday approved funding for a long-sought Vietnam veterans park as well as two visitors centers.
In a separate action, the council set aside $2.5 million to make improvements to city parks.
About two dozen Vietnam veterans attended the pre-council meeting to urge approval of the plan to build a park. It will be adjacent to a new visitors center to be constructed somewhere along Interstate 75. The city has not yet purchased a tract of land for it, but Councilman Tim Thomas said he expects that to happen soon. He said construction on the park could get started within a couple of months.
The council had planned to spend $1.8 million on an I-75 visitors center to be funded with the hotel/motel tax, which is earmarked for tourism projects.
However, Thomas recommended that the council instead spend $620,000 on an I-75 visitors center and $700,000 on a downtown visitors center. The downtown visitors center will be in a former bank building across from City Hall that the city already owns. The $700,000 will pay for renovation of that building and Thomas said he expects that to start soon.
The Vietnam veterans park will cost $450,000 and will be built with special purpose local option sales tax dollars.
The council approved the recommendation unanimously.
Thomas said he thought having two smaller visitors centers was a good idea because the one on I-75 was too isolated from the rest of the city to spend $1.8 million on it. The I-75 center will also include a dog park.
Also at the meeting, the council agreed to move $2.5 million from its reserve fund into an account for parks and recreation. That money will go toward making improvements to city parks, but exactly what improvements will be funded is still to be determined.
Andy Thomas, a member of the Recreation Advisory Board that has been looking at park needs, presented the board’s recommendations to council Monday. It called for various improvements to nearly all large city parks, as well as some improvements that could be funded through a future SPLOST.
Mayor Randy Toms said the city’s goal is to have enough in its reserve fund to operate the city for two and half months. It currently has more than that so it can spare the $2.5 million to be shifted to recreation.
“We are going to take a real strong look at the recommendations made by the Recreation Advisory Board,” Toms said. “I think they did an outstanding job. We may do 90 percent of it or we may do 100 percent of it.”
The current SPLOST allocates $6.3 million in recreation improvements but that could fall short with lagging sales tax collections. The city is also considering a sports complex estimated to cost as much as $22 million. That would have to have a separate funding source if the city decides to go forward with it.