Politics & Government

Macon-Bibb commissioners still mulling subsouth recreation facility

Macon-Bibb County commissioners are still hoping to reach a compromise on the planned subsouth recreation facility that would include features area residents want as well as tennis courts for the tennis community.

Commissioners will meet with the site’s architects Tuesday morning during the commission’s Economic and Community Development Committee meeting to get a better idea of how best to use about $7.5 million left in funds from the special purpose local option sales tax.

During a Monday evening meeting of the SPLOST Advisory Committee, members endorsed finding ways to increase the tennis presence at the facility.

So far, based on three community meetings held earlier this summer, area residents have said they want a traditional recreation center with a pool and athletic fields. Many residents have said they would like a few tennis courts for recreation purposes, but not a full complex that comes at the expense of other amenities.

The local tennis community, however, wants a tennis-oriented facility with as many as 24 courts, but that vision of the complex also would feature other amenities.

So far, architects have presented the county with plans that include all suggested amenities for the complex. Next, commissioners will choose what to put at the site first, given that it would cost about $15.6 million for all the different options. Anything not completed with the current SPLOST money would have to be done with proceeds from a future penny sales tax.

Some Macon residents have said the disagreement between the tennis community and the subsouth residents is being portrayed as more acrimonious than it should be.

Former Macon City Councilwoman Jaime Kaplan was a member of the recreation committee that put together a plan for the 2011 SPLOST that was approved by voters. That plan called for nearly $39 million in recreation spending, including $8.2 million for the complex in subsouth Bibb County, which is near Sardis Church Road.

Kaplan said when the former Bibb County Commission and Macon City Council agreed to a SPLOST referendum, those plans included that same amount set aside for subsouth.

The recreation committee’s proposal included four lighted baseball/softball diamonds, 16 lighted tennis courts and clubhouse, four multipurpose fields, a community swimming pool, a large playground, three shelters, a maintenance building and infrastructure work.

The final SPLOST document includes all of those items, but it doesn’t specify the number of courts or fields.

Kaplan said members of the tennis community pushed the SPLOST’s passage because they thought 16 courts were part of the package. She said she’s concerned that the issue has currently devolved into a dispute between subsouth residents, who want a general recreation facility, and the tennis community, which wants a tennis-oriented facility that would include other features.

“My biggest thing is that people in subsouth are saying north Macon tennis people have hijacked their facility,” she said.

Kaplan, a former tennis star and a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, said she and other committee members toured all of Bibb County’s recreation facilities, then worked with then-Parks and Recreation Director Dale “Doc” Dougherty to come up with a plan for the SPLOST.

“When I was on the committee, I never advocated for tennis, but when I got the document, I was pleasantly surprised to see (the 16-court proposal),” she said.

Clay Murphey, who supervises SPLOST projects for Macon-Bibb, said the recreation committee’s document was more of a guideline than something that was binding. He said the costs of many of the projects were just estimates, which often didn’t account for necessary infrastructure improvements.

He said the plan always was to go to the community and find out what it wanted for its various recreation projects.

Kaplan said a tennis center should be considered because the sport has a local economic impact each year of $8 million to $10 million, thanks to the number of state and regional tournaments that come to Macon. With other Georgia cities such as Rome, Columbus and Bainbridge building large tennis complexes, Kaplan said the facility is necessary for Macon to keep and attract tournaments.

SPLOST committee members Theron Ussery and Monica Smith both said during Monday’s meeting they hope that adding courts to the subsouth site will be considered by commissioners because of the economic impact.

Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Scotty Shepherd, who represents the district where the facility will be located, said he wants to get an exact breakdown of numbers before any decision is made. However, he said residents in his and Commissioner Elaine Lucas’ districts have made it clear that getting a traditional recreation center, ball fields and a pool should be the priorities.

“We’ve got to look at the facts and figures being presented to us,” Shepherd said. “We’re looking at $1.5 million in infrastructure costs, which only leaves us $6 million.”

Murphey suggested to the committee that when Macon-Bibb puts out the bid to build the facility, it could include as an add-on what it would cost to build a tennis facility on the site. That would give commissioners a better idea of how much they have to spend.

He also is working on a plan that would put leftover SPLOST money from various projects into a contingency fund that could be used to supplement things like the subsouth recreation center.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.