Senate vote could send sports, music halls packing

ATLANTA — The Georgia Senate essentially voted to put the sports and music halls of fame up for sale Friday, potentially opening the door for communities that may want to move the museums out of Macon.

The Senate legislation calls 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 across the state know the state is looking to stop subsidizing the halls, which cost Georgia taxpayers more than $1 million a year.

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

Pearson, chairman of the Senate’s Economic Development Committee, said he doesn’t know of anyone specific who may be 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 legislation was tacked onto a bill that would shrink the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame’s board by half its membership. That bill, Senate Bill 523, also would allow the governor and other state leaders to completely replace its membership if they like. It also calls for more cooperation between the sports and music halls of fame in an effort to lower costs.

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

Even Macon’s two senators — Republican state Sen. Cecil Staton and Democratic state Sen. Robert Brown — voted for the bill. But both also worked to change the amendment slightly, giving 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 the phrase “or alternative ownership, management and operation at the same location.”

“It was going to pass,” Brown said. “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.”

Georgia’s halls of fame have been targeted for budget cuts in recent years as the economy has taken bigger and bigger bites out of the state budget. The Senate also voted Friday to abolish the Golf Hall of Fame and sell off its property in Augusta. State leaders have made it clear they plan to wean these halls from state funds and that they’re looking for other groups to pick up the slack.

To that end, Macon and Bibb County legislators were pushing Friday to increase the local sales tax on hotel-motel stays by a penny on the dollar and split the proceeds among the sports and music halls and the Douglass Theatre, all in downtown Macon. But that bill, which has been bottled up in committee for weeks, had not made it to the floor by The Telegraph’s print deadline.

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To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.

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