Gregors: SPLOST to help save depot

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- If voters decide to renew a special 1 percent sales tax between now and Nov. 2, one of the biggest chunks of cash will head over to the Thronateeska Heritage Museum, where officials intend to prevent a historic Albany landmark from turning to dust.

In total, Thronateeska is set to receive $2.6 million in funding over the next six years from SPLOST VI. That funding includes projects approved by the Dougherty County Commission and the board of commissioners for the City of Albany.

On the county side, commissioners approved funding more than $640,000 to help stabilize Albany's first train depot -- an economic investment that is likely the reason the city became such a thriving hub during the late 1800s.

"(Albany founder Nelson) Tift built that depot before there were railroad tracks coming through Albany," Thronateeska Executive Director Tommy Gregors said. "Before he did, the tracks were supposed to stop in Americus, but after 1857, when he built it, they brought tracks on through to Albany; so it was an economic gamble but one that would pay off big."

Today, the building is crumbling.

Wooden walls and floors that once welcomed passengers to Albany at the turn of the century are turning to dust, while parts of the brick facade have already collapsed.

Gregors said the building is doomed if it doesn't receive the funding.

"Those funds aren't near enough to restore it," he said, "but they'll stabilize it and help keep it from getting any worse until we can raise private funding or grants to complete it."

On the city end, $2 million has been allocated to fund the construction of a 7,000-square-foot building on the Thronateeska campus that will help the museum save and store historic documents and exhibits.

Gregors said the building will also include a public space for the general public interested in combing through thousands of city and county documents.

The building will augment the museum's growing push to store vital and historic city and county documents digitally before they too turn to dust.

Thronateeska was awarded a contract by the city and county earlier this year to convert minutes, resolutions and ordinances to digital files. Some of the documents already scanned go back to the early 1900s, with the goal to have all of the government's ordinances, resolutions and minutes scanned from day one of their charters.

"It's something that we feel will help give the public more access to their government and can offer a glimpse into the way business used to be done before the documents become too fragile to read," Gregors said.

By the time the project is done, Thronateeska will have a searchable database available to the public for the documents.

Should SPLOST VI pass, the Thronateeska projects will be the latest in a growing number of projects funded through sales taxes for the facility.

The institution's landmark Wetherbee Planetarium and Science Center was funded through special sales taxes, as were efforts to restore historic rail cars.

And each time, the museum has completed the projects without subsequent funding from property taxpayers.

"It's been said before but it's true," Gregors said, "SPLOSTs are paid for by people who come into the county and shop here and eat here rather than through property taxes. So, in that way, it's a fair way to do things, especially if you think about the infrastructure projects ... The people who use the roads and bridges help pay for them."