WARNER ROBINS -- Warner Robins officials are once again looking for a new location for a proposed sports complex, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Gary Lee said Monday.
In the second decision to alter plans for a major project, Lee told RDA board members Monday that he and Mayor Chuck Shaheen have determined the current suggested location for the 16-year-old project is “prime for development” and “you don’t just put fields on it.”
“James Dodson, the director of parks and recreation -- he’s coming up with a master plan,” Lee said after Monday’s meeting, “of where the complex should be.”
Lee backpedaled a bit in an interview following Monday’s meeting, claiming that no one has decided to move the complex. Yet, he said, they have decided not to build it at the current location.
Shaheen did not return a message Monday for comment about who gave Dodson the directive to construct “a master plan” for the project. Board chairman Bill Douglas said it was not the board.
Warner Robins City Council has discussed the possibility of building a sports complex since 1995. The current location, just northwest of the intersection of Russell Parkway and Ga. 247, is the third proposed site in those 16 years.
Currently, there are no resolutions dictating the complex be built there, according to city records obtained in March.
Lee said he and the mayor believe it would be counterproductive for the city build fields on a lot that could host businesses.
Developers are interested in the area, which is certified as a Historically Underutilized Business Zone. The HUBZone designation gives small businesses preferential access to federal funding programs, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration website.
Lee told the board that he and Dodson have explored building the complex on the northeast side of town.
“It forces people to travel to where they wouldn’t normally travel,” Lee said. “Where you create the traffic flow, we can create development there.”
Second do-over decision
The decision to return to the drawing board for the sports complex makes it the second major project that the city has rethought since the board makeup changed from City Council to resident members in March.
In May, city officials -- though no one in City Hall has said who -- directed JMA Architecture to change the outside design of the Law Enforcement Center, though City Council approved plans in February.
Lee said Monday that the smaller budget the new board approved last month for the police headquarters -- $7.5 million -- requires plans for a building that is 5,000 square feet less than the plans City Council approved.
The board voted Monday to authorize JMA to draw up initial designs for the project.
When City Council debated the reformation of the RDA board in March, some councilmen worried the change would mean project progress would be delayed and reversed. Shaheen assured them at the time that would not be the case.
Councilman Bob Wilbanks, one of the three councilmen who voted against reforming the Redevelopment Agency board, said Monday that the recent project changes showcase the real reason he believes Shaheen wanted to alter the board makeup. He said starting from step one after money already has been spent on the complex is an irresponsible use of tax dollars.
“The sole purpose of that entire situation (reforming the board) is Chuck Shaheen is trying to do things the way he wanted to do them, around the legal way of government in Warner Robins is set up,” Wilbanks said, adding he believes the complex is being moved for a sole developer who showed interest in the property last year.
“That’s a sad way to do business.”
Lee did not answer a question Monday about whether the new board is simply looking at the projects in a new way, instead, he insisted the board has not changed anything.
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.