Sports park a 'quality-of-life' project

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- When voters head to the polls in November to decide whether to renew a 1 percent special sales tax, they'll largely be considering whether to fund infrastructure projects like roads, sewers and bridges, repairs and new construction on government buildings, and other capital projects.

But also tucked into the referendum is funding for what local government officials call "quality-of-life" projects that don't serve a vital government or public safety function, but offer something that some say just makes living here better.

For SPLOST VI, one of the largest quality-of-life projects on the ballot will be a proposed mega-recreation center and sports park proponents say will allow the city and county to compete for major sports tournaments, improve economic development and give the public another resource in its recreation repertoire.

While the details for the project are sketchy at best at this point, Assistant City Manager James Taylor said the premise is to build a multi-use facility that will offer baseball, softball and tennis facilities, "at the minimum."

"The idea is to have a comprehensive sports park that can cater to as many sports as possible," Taylor said. "We'd like to include soccer as well, but that's dependent on space limitations and things like that."

The tennis facilities will actually be incorporated and paid for from funding left from SPLOST III. Voters initially approved the funds in that referendum for a planned stand-alone tennis center. Records from the Dougherty County Finance Department show that $719,000 is left in that fund, and the intent of both city and county elected leadership is to incorporate the tennis center as an element of the sports park.

But critics of government spending have grown weary of projects that started out as mere sales tax-funded construction only to have city and county officials fork over operational costs from property tax revenues as an annual subsidy.

The sports park will be built with sales tax revenues and will be operated largely under the auspices of the city of Albany, Taylor said, but he noted that much of the operational costs can me mitigated through conscious design decisions and revenue generation operations.

"There are opportunities, through green energy grants and credits, to help defray costs with utilities and things like that, and the thinking is that it would be as self-sustaining as possible through things such as concessions, rental fees and the like," Taylor said.

If the proposed facility isn't self-sustaining, many downtown believe quality-of-life projects like this one are vital to a multicultural and diverse community and say they are willing to offer some degree of funding.

The city typically operates the Albany Civic Center and Albany Municipal Auditorium at a loss in an effort to keep the venues affordable and accessible to the public.

Those in local government are just now beginning discussions of more concrete aspects of the project, such as possible site locations and infrastructure needs, but Taylor said that initial thoughts on the matter are that the park would be centrally located somewhere in the heart of the city, although he did say that expansion on Paul Eames Sports Park is a possibility.

"With these types of developments, you have to keep certain things in mind, such as accessibility and location to major thoroughfares and roads and distance from motels and hotels," he said. "Paul Eames would be perfect in one sense because it's close to the expressway. But it's a bit of ways to the nearest hotel."

Taylor said those discussions will intensify closer to the referendum and, of course, if it passes.

"It has to pass first, so we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves," he said.