Senate measure could mean new locations for Macon museums

ATLANTA — A push to move the state’s sports and music halls of fame out of Macon — or at least get locals to fully fund them — is running strong at the Georgia Capitol today.

An amendment passed the state Senate moments ago calling on the state to actively seek “proposals for a new location (for the halls) or alternative ownership, management and operation at the same location.”

The intent is to let governments and private groups all across the state know that the state is looking to stop subsidizing the halls, which cost Georgia taxpayers more than $1 million a year despite lackluster attendance.

“There may be a white knight out there that doesn’t even know this thing exists,” said state Sen. Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville and author of the amendment. “We’re hoping that this will pique some interest.”

Pearson, who chairs the Senate’s Economic Development Committee, said he doesn’t know of anyone specifically interested in the halls. Some officials in the Atlanta area, though, have expressed interest in moving one, or both, of the halls of fame there.

Pearson’s amendment was tacked onto a bill that would shrink the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame board by half and allow the governor and other state leaders to completely replace its membership if they like. That bill, Senate Bill 523, also calls for more cooperation between the sports and music halls of fame staffs to lower costs.

The bill, and Pearson’s amendment, passed the Senate unanimously. It moves now to the House for consideration, and it would also need the governor’s signature to take effect.

Even Macon’s two senators, state Sen. Cecil Staton and state Sen. Robert Brown, voted for the bill. Both of them also worked to change the amendment slightly to give Macon a better chance of retaining the halls.

Pearson’s initial language spoke only to “a new location” for the halls. Brown and Staton worked with state Sen. Preston Smith, R-Rome, to tack on “or alternative ownership, management and operation at the same location.”

“It was going to pass,” said Brown, D-Macon. “He had the votes.

“The fact of the matter is, at least you now have more of an incentive for them to remain in Macon,” Brown said.

In the House of Representatives today, legislators are expected to debate another bill dealing with the halls. House Bill 993 would increase the local sales tax on hotel-motel stays by a penny on the dollar to help fund the halls and the Douglass Theatre downtown.