Bibb pitches bid to take over sports, music halls of fame

Bibb County’s government is hoping it can take over the state’s ailing sports and music halls of fame.

In informal talks Tuesday, county commissioners unanimously agreed to let Commission Chairman Sam Hart begin negotiating for the buildings, which could involve a swap of sales tax money for operating funds.

Hart said the county could spend special purpose local option sales tax money to buy the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame for perhaps $12 million to $15 million. The state would then return the money to the county as an endowment that could run the halls of fame as well as other sites the county subsidizes such as the Tubman African American Museum and the Douglass Theatre.

The SPLOST money can’t be spent directly on operations, only on capital expenditures such as the purchase of the buildings.

Hart separately told The Telegraph that he’s also looking into involving third parties such as NewTown Macon, which could take over the responsibility for running the buildings.

Meanwhile, a NewTown Macon official said Tuesday that the downtown booster group is pursuing a separate strategy for securing the buildings.

Several weeks ago, the organization pitched a plan to take over the halls of fame if the state gives them away, continues subsidizing them for three years and passes a hotel-motel tax that would subsidize their operations indefinitely.

NewTown Director of Place Kris Hattaway said she has received no feedback about the proposals pitched several weeks ago. But she said local support runs strong.

“We believe that we have the community support to do this, because the buildings and what’s in them — the establishments — are just vital,” Hattaway said. NewTown Macon or a partner organization would run the museums, she said.

State Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, said the local community has built a museum district that includes the Tubman and the children’s museum, as well as the restored Terminal Station.

“Macon has lived up to its bargain,” he said. “The problem is there are folks who never wanted them in Macon.”

Lucas said he’s not sure a hotel-motel tax that would subsidize the halls of fame and the Douglass would clear the General Assembly this year. It’s faced heavy lobbying.

“I haven’t given up hope, and Sen. (Cecil) Staton and Sen. (Robert) Brown are working hard for this community,” said Lucas, who also said the General Assembly is considering a similar hotel-motel tax in Atlanta to replace the Georgia Dome.

The local interest hasn’t gone unnoticed by Lisa Love, Georgia Music Hall of Fame executive director. ‘‘We are pleased that so many entities are taking a very close look at the halls, and our board will be meeting immediately after the legislative session and decide how to move forward from there.”

Both the Bibb County and NewTown Macon proposals face other big obstacles.

The state House is about to consider Senate Bill 523, which asks for proposals to move or change the management of the halls of fame. Georgia taxpayers have been spending more than $1 million a year on subsidies for the two halls of fame in Macon.

While the state hasn’t liked subsidizing the halls of fame, some legislators want the facilities in Atlanta. It’s not clear whether the state would be willing to keep the museums in Macon, give up control and give them away.

Bibb County’s plan also counts on voters’ approval of a SPLOST. Macon leaders are pushing against the SPLOST until the city and county settle disagreements over which government handles and pays for services in the area.

But commissioners indicated they think the idea is worth a look and that it eventually could get the county out of the museum business by ending its own subsidies. The plan also could involve the city of Macon’s participation.

County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards questioned whether the state would give away the buildings or agree to a plan from the county.

“Recent experience doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in getting anything favorable out of that General Assembly that benefits Macon and Bibb County,” Edwards said.

Telegraph writer Travis Fain contributed to this report, which also includes information from The Telegraph’s archives. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.