ALBANY, Ga. -- As word has spread about the Southwest Georgia Music & Arts Festival planned for Oct. 12-14 at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds here, the initial excitement of many has quietly settled into wait-and-see mode.
Executives with the Georgia Music Hall of Fame Foundation can now officially be added to that list of interested onlookers.
Festival organizer Sam Shugart is working with Music Hall officials on a plan that would make the now-anchorless museum the primary nonprofit benefactor of the three-day music and arts festival and could make Southwest Georgia the Hall's permanent home.
"Shortly after we announced the festival, I had a conversation with my old friend Dallas Davidson, who is vice chair of the Georgia Music Hall Foundation," Shugart said of the Albany native who, with 13 No. 1 songs on his resume, is country music's go-to hitmaker. "He's a great guy from our area who's retained ties to the region, and he wants to see this happen.
"Dallas and (Hall of Fame Foundation Chairwoman) Lisa Love also realize what (the plan) could do for the Southeastern United States, for Georgia and particularly for the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. They share the vision that's brought the festival to life."
Part of that vision includes bringing the Music Hall to downtown Albany or some other Southwest Georgia location.
"There's been so much talk about revitalizing downtown Albany, but (the Music Hall) could be the turning point that makes that happen," Shugart said. "And I know the taxpayers in Albany and Dougherty County would be wary hearing about another attraction here because they are tired of paying to keep some of the others open.
"But what would they think about an attraction that opens with an irrevocable endowment in place that would assure it is self-sustaining forever without the need for one dime of public funding? An attraction that would open with integrated public outlets in place that would create their own viable revenue streams?"
Attempts to reach both Davidson and Love for this article were unsuccessful.
The possibility of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame finding a permanent home in a region whose musical heritage runs deep is another element of Shugart's ever-expanding vision for a festival that has grown from a seed of an idea to perhaps the most talked-about entertainment topic in the Southeast.
"The way I see it, I have three months to prove myself to the Hall of Fame Foundation," he said. "There are no obligations at this time; people are waiting to see what we're going to do."
Officials with the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau offered some encouraging numbers this week to fuel the excitement of the SOWEGA Music & Arts fest and the possible location of the Georgia Music Hall to Albany.
CVB figures show that a crowd of 15,000 out-of-towners and 10,000 day-trippers at the three-day music festival would have an estimated $6.555 million economic impact on the region. The Music Hall, meanwhile, would have a $2.185 million annual impact on the region if it drew a conservative 25,000 visitors a year. Figures from 2009 show that the hall drew between 25,000 and 30,000 to its home then in Macon.
The hall closed in 2011 due to a lack of funding and several Georgia cities submitted proposals to house the museum. All were eventually rejected. The museum's various permanent artifacts are currently being stored at the University of Georgia.
Thronateeska Heritage Museum Executive Director Tommy Gregors and then-Flint RiverQuarium Director Scott Loehr conducted initial requirements needed to prepare a Music Hall proposal for the city of Albany, but Gregors said there were too many uncertainties at the time.
"Scott and I attended meetings, read all the RFP (request for proposal) documents and toured the facility (in Macon)," the Thronateeska executive director said. "We looked into the possibility of preparing a proposal on our terms, but we didn't feel comfortable giving assurances they were looking for at that time, so in the end we did not make a proposal."
Gregors said Albany's musical history makes it a natural fit with the Music Hall, but he said such a facility would be a tougher sell as another standalone museum.
"A music hall of fame would certainly bring an audience along with it and that, in turn, would increase traffic at Thronateeska, the RiverQuarium, Chehaw and the Civil Rights Institute," Gregors said. "In fact, I think it would make Albany more of a two-day or weekend destination.
"But if it's not located in close proximity to the existing attractions, it would defeat the purpose. One of the realities of this business is that if people get in their cars to travel from one place to the next, you're going to lose a great many of them."
Gregors also noted that the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies would bring a premier event to Albany that would include performances by annual inductees.
For Shugart, the list for possible Music Hall locations that might be sponsored by SOWEGA Music & Arts fest funds is a short one: It's Southwest Georgia or nowhere.
"We'd still be more than willing to make the Hall of Fame our nonprofit benefactor, but we are not willing to consider another market for relocation," he said. "People have said, 'I can see you buying 2,000 acres of land along I-75 and putting the Hall there,' but, nope, that's not going to happen.
"This is where I live; this is where we're going to have the music and arts festival. This whole thing revolves around Southwest Georgia."