Peach commission vote may have killed water park deal

FORT VALLEY -- Peach County commissioners again rejected a deal to get a water park, but Tuesday’s 3-2 vote may have killed the park altogether.

Water park developer Jeff Franklin said he put two years of hard work into developing the proposal and would talk to land developer Tim Thornton about what to do next.

Thornton told reporters, “Quite honestly, I think it’s a dead deal. ... I really thought one of them might come around tonight. I don’t know if they’ll entertain it again.”

On Tuesday night, each commissioner seemed to want a water park, but a majority voted against a proposed contract. Though the water park had been discussed for several sites over a long time, the developers changed the plan last week, and this week Thornton hadn’t seen the latest contract, which would hold him accountable.

Peach County was asked to put more than $300,000 into building an entrance road for the commercial subdivision that would include the 5.9-acre water park. That help was called critical to making the whole deal work.

Commissioners Roy Lewis and Martin Moseley voted to sign the contract, while Melvin Walker Jr., Walter Smith and Betty Hill voted against it.

The water park is planned for a chunk of land that’s within both Warner Robins and Peach County, on the other side of U.S. 41 from a shopping center that includes Monkey Joe’s.

Franklin’s plans called for an indoor pool, wave pool, splash pad, lazy river and slides. He said he’d need to start construction of the pools in October.

After the vote, Franklin said to commissioners, “So what we’re saying is we’re not going to move forward with the water park? ... I just need to know. If it’s not going to go, then I need to find another spot. ... I’d just be really sad about not doing this in Peach County.”

Hill confirmed she joined the two no votes. Lewis asked if there was anything Franklin could do to make the no-voters more comfortable.

“I’m for the project,” said Walker, the chairman.

“Then vote for it!” erupted Moseley, who called the vote an embarrassment for Peach County and its future. “I hope a developer doesn’t ask these guys if he should come to Peach County.”

Thornton said the water park would involve millions of dollars worth of investments. Commissioners said a study showed they would recoup their money through taxes in about five years.

Tuesday’s vote came just days after the commission voted to raise taxes, with commissioners saying costs kept increasing while the county’s tax digest remained flat.

Thornton had said the county’s building of the road was critical to making the deal’s finances work. The county engineer estimated the road would take about $322,000 to build. The latest contract, which Thornton had not seen until a reporter showed him a copy, would require Thornton’s company to pay back the county’s road money if the water park was not built.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.