Site of Destiny Center/Albany Transportation Center on Oglethorpe Boulevard
ALBANY, Ga. -- Just when it seemed the city of Albany's drawn-out, decade-plus-in-the-making transit center was on the verge of actually moving from drawing board to reality, another in a long line of monkey wrenches was thrown into the works.
This one, though, may be the one that dramatically scales down the concept for the facility, originally dreamed as a site for modes of transportation that included everything from city buses to passenger rail service.
City Attorney Nathan Davis told the Albany City Commission at its Feb. 19 work session that the wording in the call for more than $4 million in special-purpose local-option sales tax to fund a "transit repair and maintenance facility rehab" left funding for what the city is now calling a "multimodal transit facility" suspect under state law.
"The language is pretty plain," Davis said Wednesday. "It specifically says 'transit repair and maintenance facility rehab' in the call that eventually was included on the SPLOST ballot. I don't see any way that legally leads to the conclusion that this would be a multimodal transit facility.
"(City officials) asked me to look at this closely because there was some question about it, and it is my interpretation that using the SPLOST money to build a new transit facility would be improper use of this funding. I'm glad they asked me to take a look at it because I believe there would have been sanctions if we'd moved forward with this project."
Davis' ruling leaves the multimodal transit facility somewhat in limbo as city officials scramble to determine what their next step will be. Assistant City Manager Wes Smith, who is heading the project, said Wednesday he and staff are looking at a number of options, including paring down the facility significantly so that only the roughly $3.5 million in federal stimulus money that the city is in line for is used on a much smaller-scale facility.
"We're taking another look at the (four proposed) sites, getting additional information on each," Smith said. "The commission has asked us to do another public session and include the costs associated with the sites, so we'll do that and take it back to the commission.
"Bottom line, though, we ultimately have to have a transit point in the city. The FTA (Federal Transit Authority) has been 'temporarily' paying the rent on the current transit site (at 300 W. Oglethorpe Blvd.) for 12 years. If we don't build a site somewhere, that's certainly going away. And that's a $90,000 expenditure that we'll have to come up with."
Smith and city officials, using reserach provided by the Wendel Company consulting firm, had narrowed choices for a possible multimodal site to four locations: at the former China Palace restaurant, 301 E. Oglethorpe Blvd., identified as Site A; the current transit center/Trailways bus depot, 300 W. Oglethorpe, Site B; the site of the former Heritage House hotel, 732 W. Oglethorpe, Site C; and the site of the former Carmike Cinemas, 1121 Gillionville Road, Site D.
After a public hearing to get input on each site, Smith brought a cost analysis to the City Commission on the 19th, which was supposed to have been the final step before the commission made a decision. Davis's analysis, however, changed that.
Even without the city attorney's recommendation not to use SPLOST funding for the facility, cost estimates came in higher than anticipated. Cost of Site A is estimated at $9,083,918, Site B at $11,213,142, Site C $8,849,245 and Site D $8,955,483.
The general financial outlook for the transit facility has diminished considerably over the years, state and federal funding sources dwindling from slightly less than $11 million, including $1.5 million in city matching funds, to around $3.5 million.
"The time element has certainly been a factor (in the grant losses)," Smith said. "Federal Highway and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants (in the amount of $2.6 million) are already off the table, and it's very unlikely now that we're going to get the ARRA 5311 (stimulus) grant (of $2 million). Plus the Georgia Department of Transportation 5309 Grant that was originally at $1.5 million has been reduced significantly (to $359,000).
"We essentially can count on about $3.5 million in funding, and there has been discussion of building what that $3.5 million will buy. We think we could do it with a very basic facility for the buses and a simple office in the middle."
Smith said the City Commission will ultimately decide what action to take on the multimodal facility, but that group's discussion of the project has cleared up the picture somewhat. Site A, located at a busy intersection along U.S. Highway 82, has been all but eliminated as a possibility because of the ingress and egress traffic issues.
"Clearly the current site (B) has the most support among commissioners, but sites C and D have also gotten support," Smith said. "There is still a possibility that we could add a maintenance facility to the design of the project that would meet the letter of the law and allow us to use the SPLOST funds, and I'll discuss that possibility with the commission.
"But if economics is ultimately the No. 1 concern, it's clear that the least expensive option based on cash outlay is the Heritage House site, which is owned by the city. Ownership of the property would count as the city's match, and all funds could be used on construction of the project. But that's a decision the commission is going to have to make."