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Jeff Turner said Clayton County leaders considering civic center for 2015 SPLOST

Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, right, talks about past special purpose local option sales Taxes during a forum on the proposed 2015 SPLOST Tuesday. Looking on is county Transportation Director Jeff Metarko. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, right, talks about past special purpose local option sales Taxes during a forum on the proposed 2015 SPLOST Tuesday. Looking on is county Transportation Director Jeff Metarko. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

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Clayton County Transportation Director Jeff Metarko answers a question during the county’s 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax forum in Forest Park Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

FOREST PARK — The next special purpose local option sales tax project list that goes before Clayton County voters for approval could include a multi-million dollar multi-purpose civic center.

County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner confirmed Tuesday that a civic center has been proposed for inclusion in the SPLOST project list. The facility could provide a place for athletic events, concerts and high school graduations, but its inclusion on the final list is far from a done deal, said Turner.

It may carry a price tag of about $40 million, one source indicated. When asked about the proposed facility and the price, Turner only addressed the facility.

“We’ve been kicking around ideas, and one of those ideas is for a civic center to be built in Clayton County,” said Turner during a SPLOST public input forum in Forest Park. “Right now, what you see the school system doing with graduations is they’ll jump up and go downtown, spend all of that money downtown and we’re missing out on that revenue here in Clayton County.

“And it’s simply because we don’t have a facility large enough to hold the graduations in the county,” he continued.

The civic center, which was greeted with some measured approval from some attendees at the forum, and elicited some recommendations for what type of facility should be built.

The confirmation that such a facility has been proposed came after county Transportation Director Jeff Metarko encouraged residents to “think big” in terms of some of the projects they wanted to see built with SPLOST dollars. He was soliciting input on potential “game changers” that could be funded with a SPLOST and used to spur development.

Metarko and Turner explained SPLOST money can be used on capital expenses, including being used as matching funds for grants that will pay for capital improvement projects. The money cannot, they said, be used to pay operating expenses for the county.

Civic Center engages residents’ imaginations

Suggestions included a research park, a Boys and Girls Club, sidewalks, bike paths and improvements to roads, technology and the State Farmers Market in Forest Park. However, the civic center did more than any other suggested capital project to get attendees’ creative juices flowing.

Rex resident Jeffrey Benoit suggested a venue on par with the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, which is capable of hosting large performances. He also said it should be the first project the county builds with funds from the proposed SPLOST so the county can have something to bring attention to itself while it works on smaller projects afterwards.

It would also be a way to generate revenue and bring jobs to the county, Benoit added.

“So lets do a Cobb Energy Centre — or a Clayton Energy Center — that has the ability to do various different things throughout the year (such as) graduations, theater and so forth,” said Benoit.

Turner pointed out that the county would have an opportunity to have a unique multi-purpose facility because, he said, there are hardly any facilities on the southside that can compare to the Cobb Energy Centre.

“Everything stops at I-20,” he said. “All of these counties that are south of I-20 don’t have a facility like that that they can utilize. They go to the Fox Theater, or the Cobb Energy Centre and all of these other places. Now you can have a quality four-star or five-star event center on the southside.”

Ellenwood resident Sharon Daniel said it would need to have the latest technology, and be a high-quality, energy-efficient facility.

Turner agreed.

“It’s got to be quality,” he said. “We’re not doing that subpar stuff anymore.”

Jonesboro resident Helen Meadows asked Turner and Metarko where they would put such a facility. Turner said that hasn’t been decided, however he added it would need a great location and would likely be on I-75.

“It would have to be somewhere where it’s easily accessible,” said Turner. “That’s the only way it works where, number one, it can be seen and, number two, you can jump off the interstate somewhere and get to it in a matter of seconds.”

After the forum ended, Meadows said she supported the idea of building a civic center that could bring concerts to the county. She said she attended the forum to hear some of the ideas thrown out as possible projects. She added that she was impressed with the projects she heard about, but she was especially keen on the civic center idea.

“The civic center really sounds like a good idea,” said Meadows. “I’m always going downtown for pops concerts and events like that. If we could get a facility that could house those kind of events down here, that would be awesome.”

Turner said it could host conventions while DeMont Davis, chairman of a citizens review committee formed to compile a proposed SPLOST project list, said Clayton State University could use the facility for NCAA events. That hinges, of course, on whether it makes the cut to be included on the final proposed project list and then if it is approved by voters.

The university hosted a NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament regional at its small 1,200-seat Athletics and Fitness Center in Morrow earlier this year. The university nearly ran out of seats to fit fans during a couple of games featuring the Lady Lakers during the regional.

Davis suggest a facility that could host more NCAA tournament events, possibly including a Division II Final Four.

“We’ve got the women’s Division II past national champions in our county,” said Davis. “The only women’s basketball team in Georgia to win a national championship resides here in Clayton County. Division II sports is huge. Here is an idea. Let’s build some type of complex that can begin to bring those national Division II events here.”

State Rep. Valencia Stovall suggested a facility that has a seating plan which can be changed for different types of events, whether they be athletic contests, or concerts.

“It could be like Philips Arena where they can transform the seating area,” she said.

Other projects

Turner said there were other projects the county could use SPLOST dollars on, including buying buses and building shelters to set up a mass transit system. However, he said the county would have to find other funding sources to pay the operational costs for such a system.

And Turner and Metarko didn’t rule out the possibility that county could decide to join MARTA after the county completes a feasibility study.

When asked if a Flint River conservation project designed to protect the river from urbanization had been discussed, Davis said it had not. Conservation group American Rivers named the Flint River the second most endangered river in America, behind the Colorado River. The group cited Clayton County’s urbanization as one of the threats facing the river.

Davis didn’t rule out the possibility of SPLOST-funded conservation or recreation area projects for the river, though. He just said no one had suggested it as an area to look at.

Limited time for input

Everything is just a suggestion at this point. Officials said a citizens committee is reviewing suggestions and trying to decide what to propose county commissioners adopt as the final project list that will go before voters next May.

But time is running out for citizens to suggest projects for the SPLOST list.

Davis said that he expects the group will be prepared to recommend a project list to county leaders in mid-December. the committee’s next two meetings to vet proposed projects will be held Monday and Dec. 9. Both meetings will be held at 5 p.m. at the Clayton County Board of Commissioners building, 112 Smith St., in Jonesboro.