Committee recommends civic arena for SPLOST list

JONESBORO — A $35 million civic arena will be one of the top priorities a special purpose local option sales tax committee recommends county commissioners include on an upcoming tax-funded project list next week.

After some discussion, the panel opted to recommend the 2015 SPLOST project list include the arena which is expected to be something akin to a southside version of the Gwinnett Arena that can host concerts, graduations and athletic events. It is being requested by Clayton County’s economic development department.

“There is a risk versus reward here and we’re at a point here where we do have to take some type of risk,” said committee Chairman DeMont Davis.

While the civic arena was the first county project to be get a recommendation from the committee for inclusion on the final SPLOST project list, its approval came after considerable discussion about sustainability, oversight, location and return on investment.

Janie Griffin, who represents commission District 4, raised questions about whether the project was sustainable. The list of proposed projects said the civic arena was not sustainable without going into the county’s general fund to hire additional staff to operate it.

“Are we gonna consider projects that are non-sustainable?,” Griffin said.

That prompted Davis’ to ask the committee to decide which direction the SPLOST projects should take the county.

“The question becomes where do we just drop and keep the train running the same way, or where are we going to try and change direction and see some improvement,” he said.

Ron Dodson said the projects, such as the civic arena, that could have an economic impact on the county should be included.

“The civic center is kind of a pie-in-the-sky type thing, but at the same time if we don’t bring people into this county to spend money, none of this stuff is going to be good,” he said. “We’ve got to have some economic development power in this county to bring people down here, or up here, to spend money.”

In the end, committee members decided economic development projects, such as the arena, should be included because they have the highest potential to kick-start development in the county. It was also pointed out that such a facility could bring high school graduations back to Clayton County from downtown Atlanta.

The next step in the SPLOST process is a presentation given by committee Chairman DeMont Davis at the commission’s Dec. 17 meeting, said Chief Operating Officer Arrelle Anderson. After that, county department heads will then review the recommendations for county projects and decide which projects they most want.

Public forums will be held in January and commissioners are expected to adopt a final list in February, said Anderson. That list is expected to go before voters for approval in May.

The committee did not prioritize the lists presented by the county’s seven cities because municipal leaders already prioritized their projects. Those prioritized lists — some of which had been cut significantly in size over the last week — were approved unanimously by the committee.

However, county officials had not prioritized their project lists for the committee and that meant the group had to spend at least an hour and a half deciding whether projects should be considered high, medium or low priorities.

“We wanted to prioritize the projects so the citizens could say, ‘This is what should be the high priorities for projects in the county,’” said Davis.

Of course, that means that a clear picture of what county projects will likely make the final project list will not become clear until sometime in January.

Davis also said the high priority projects will be relabeled as “major” projects when they are presented to commissioners.

Some of the other county projects the committee deemed to be of major importance include:

• A $24 million modernization of the county’s public safety and public service fleets.

• An $11 million trio of police department buildings, including a police precinct near the intersection of Tara Boulevard and Battle Creek Road, a storage building at a new precinct under construction in the Ellenwood area and a code enforcement building.

• A $10.5 million transportation and development building.

• A $7 million technology center.

• A $5.2 million elections and registration building.

• A $5 million economic development and business incubator building.

Forest Park’s, Morrow’s and Riverdale’s revised constrained project lists were not immediately available after the meeting. Some of the other city-level projects approved by the committee include:

• A $2.9 million list of College Park projects, such as an electric vehicle charging station, police security cameras, a groundwater well, South Hampton Streetscape, Global Gateway Village, fire station equipment, a recreation playground, a golf course drainage system and a paved walkway, landscaping, new signage and a power washing for the Georgia International Convention Center.

• Requests from Jonesboro that include $3.8 million for a municipal complex, $1.7 million for sidewalks, $1 million for Streetscape Phase III, $700,000 to buy a street sweeper and police and public works vehicles, $500,000 for a city green near Broad Street, $300,000 for enhancements at Lee Street Park and $100,000 for way finding signs in the historic district.

• Requests from Lake City that include $3.5 million for economic development projects, $800,000 for sidewalks, $725,000 for police patrol cars and radios, $290,000 for a public works truck and $240,000 for work at Phillips Drive Park.

• About $9.3 million in infrastructure, public safety and recreation projects in Lovejoy. The breakdown is $5.9 million for infrastructure projects, $2.4 million for public safety projects and $1.8 million for recreation projects.