Music hall board rejects committee’s choice of Macon

The Georgia Music Hall of Fame Authority had a choice of four cities Wednesday to be home base for the music museum.

But the board chose a fifth option: none of the above.

In a 6-3 vote, the board rejected a motion to accept the decision of an evaluation committee that would have allowed the museum to stay in Macon.

After hearing presentations last week from all four cities still in the running -- Macon, Athens, Dunwoody and Woodstock -- board members had indicated that they were eager to decide as soon as possible. Committee members turned in their evaluation forms for each city at the end of business Tuesday so that a vote could be taken Wednesday.

Based on the evaluation scores, Macon was ranked first with 518 points for an average score of 57.56 on a 100-point evaluation scale. Woodstock finished second with 384.75 for an average score of 42.75.

Some committee members found fault with the scoring system, even though the board approved it in December.

Robert Highsmith, an Atlanta attorney who was chairman of the evaluation team, noted that the scores from the three Macon-based members of the authority -- board chairwoman Karla Redding-Andrews, Kirby Godsey and Stephen Simpson -- were disproportionately higher in Macon’s favor than the rest of the board.

Godsey and Simpson each scored Macon with a 95 out of 100, while Redding-Andrews gave Macon a score of 80. Without those scores, the rest of the board’s average evaluation for Macon was 41.33.

“Three of our members gave Macon a ranking that was extremely high,” Highsmith said. “If you set those aside, with one exception, no other member gave any proposal higher than a 68. ... It suggests to me that as an authority, we don’t feel like we got what we needed to award a proposal. We failed to break 60 on a 100-point scale.”

Simpson rejected the notion that the three Macon scores were statistical outliers or mathematical anomalies.

“When you have three outliers out of nine (scores), those aren’t outliers,” said Simpson, who owns a Macon construction company.

Board member Brad Turner, a member of the W.C. Bradley Co. advisory board in Columbus, suggested that even though Macon is the geographic center of Georgia, Atlanta is the economic and cultural epicenter of the state and that Woodstock or Dunwoody would be better able to draw attendance from the metro Atlanta area than Macon would from the rest of the state.

Turner said he wants to inspect the proposed Woodstock and Dunwoody sites for himself to make a more informed judgment.

Godsey, the chancellor of Mercer University, noted that the board had until April 15 to inform Gov. Nathan Deal of its decision, and the state has a deadline of April 30 for a final decision. Godsey said the longer the board delays making a recommendation, the more likely the music hall will go dark after state funding ends June 30.

The state put out a request for proposals Sept. 30 across the state, looking for a community to take over the operation of the music and sports museums. Macon, the lone city to put in a bid for the sports hall, was awarded that museum earlier this month.

Five cities put in proposals for the music hall, but Dahlonega dropped out of the process a couple of weeks ago when part of its proposed funding didn’t materialize.

Some board members indicated Wednesday that they didn’t share Godsey’s concerns about the music hall going dark for an extended period.

Board member Rob Gibson, executive director of the Savannah Music Festival, said he was unimpressed by all of the proposals, and he questioned whether there is enough interest statewide to sustain a museum in any of the locations. Gibson ended up scoring Athens’ proposal the highest at 80, noting that city’s outside-the-box philosophy of eliminating a permanent museum for the music hall of fame altogether.

“Sometimes things need to be dead for a while,” Gibson said. “Preserving the musical heritage of Georgia, that’s what’s important.”

Most of the other board members, however, rejected the Athens bid because it didn’t meet the request-for-proposal requirements. Highsmith agreed that having the museum go dark might be the best option if the alternative is to be in the same predicament in five years because the board chose a community that couldn’t sustain the museum.

“You look at the scores of any of the bids and I don’t think any of them can sustain” the museum long term.

The board is taking no further action until Redding-Andrews meets with Deal’s staff and the Georgia Department of Economic Development to see how best to proceed.

Many of those from Macon were disappointed that the board chose not to make a decision Wednesday, especially after Macon had the highest rating among the board members.

Halls of Fame Inc. board member Mike Ford, president and CEO of NewTown Macon, said the lack of a decision by the board caught him by surprise.

“In the process they outlined, we complied with everything,” he said. “They had four really good communities interested. (The delay) tends to hurt the hall of fame. Any delay casts doubt into the future of the hall of fame. ... It’s frustrating because we complied with all the requests they put forth.”

Simpson and Godsey said Macon was the only one of the four cities that met all the qualifications set forth in the request for proposal.

Godsey noted that Macon is the only one of the four bids that has money already set aside to help with the museum’s operations. Macon and Bibb County have proposed $500,000 over the next three years for the music hall’s operation, and the museum is expected to get about $90,000 per year in revenue from an additional penny added local hotel/motel bed tax.

In addition, several local foundations have offered grant money, including $750,000 offered by the Peyton Anderson Foundation over the next three years.

“Clearly, Macon has the best proposal,” Godsey said.

In Atlanta, the news of the delay brought a mixed reaction from state lawmakers.

“I’m very disappointed by the non-decision because Macon’s was clearly the best proposal,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon. “I hope this isn’t an attempt to reopen the process as a lot of hard work has been put in by a lot of people to make this process fair and equitable for all interested parties. This includes the hall staff, which could better use their time running the hall rather than administering an RFP.”

But state Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, who is the Senate Majority Leader and serves on the Senate committee that oversees the music hall, said he was glad that the committee is still weighing its options.

“I am pleased that the vote has been delayed,” said Rogers, who sent a letter of support that was included in Woodstock’s presentation last week. “This decision is extremely important to the future of the hall of fame. All Georgians want them to get it right. Taking additional time to get the decision right is more important than any arbitrary deadline.”

Writer Maggie Lee contributed to this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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