The Trailways bus station at 300 W. Oglethorpe Blvd. is one of the sites under consideration for a multimodal transit facility. (Jan. 11, 2013)
ALBANY, Ga. -- For many here, the mere mention of the term "multimodal transit facility" is cause for consternation, conjuring images of a political albatross that has hung around the city's neck for going on 12 years.
A renewed effort to not only finalize a site for the city's transit system but to get the project off the drawing board and under construction, however, has officials optimistic that the nightmare that has surrounded the proposed multimodal facility may be actually moving toward a conclusion.
"This ongoing project has clearly left a bad taste in people's mouths," Assistant City Manager Wes Smith said a couple of days after introducing four proposed sites for the facility to Albany city commissioners. "A lot of time has expired -- 11 years now -- and there has been a lot of confusion. But I think once we get this built, the people will be happy."
In the decade-plus since the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration got on board to help provide funding for a proposed multimodal transportation facility in Albany, the project has met stumbling block after stumbling block. Talks and negotiations that carried over through a number of administrations on the fifth floor of the Government Center appeared to have reached a level of clarity two years ago when the City Commission approved a site at the corner of Flint Avenue and Washington Street. But the possibility that digging on the site might disturb Native American artifacts arose early in the process and brought progress to a sudden and stunning halt.
The commission voted to discontinue work at the site, in the process giving up some $3.5 million in guaranteed funding and rendering another $75,000 already spent useless.
But Smith, who along with city Transit Director David Hamilton met with a planning team from Richmond, Va.-based Wendel Companies Monday and Tuesday, has led efforts to get the project not only back on the drawing board, but under construction and ultimately finished.
Smith offered four sites for the City Commission's consideration at that body's work session Tuesday: land at 301 E. Oglethorpe Blvd., on which the defunct China Palace restaurant and part of the adjacent Budget Inn now sit; the Destiny Tours/Trailways bus depot at 300 Oglethorpe Blvd.; the location of the recently demolished Heritage House hotel at 732 W. Oglethorpe Blvd., and the former Carmike Cinema site at 1121 Gillionville Road.
The Wendel team -- an economic developer, a team leader, an architect and a transit architect -- thoroughly scrutinized all four sites, compiling a list of pros and cons associated with each. Smith, Hamilton and other city leaders will now use that and additional information to complete a cost analysis for each site.
"The consultants gave us fairly significant pros and cons with each location," Smith said. "We're taking a pass-fail approach in evaluating each, trying to come up with a clearer picture for commissioners to consider. We've added economic impact and order of magnitude -- including cost comparisons for each site -- elements to provide commissioners an exceptional comparison analysis on which to make their decision.
"We want to provide the tools that will allow them to make a decision with their eyes wide open."
Hamilton said each of the sites has the potential to meet the city's needs, but he also says each has challenges. Some of the positives noted by Wendel's team include the proximity to Albany State University (China Palace/Budget Inn), downtown location (existing transit center), land owned by city (Heritage House) and proximity to retail outlets (Carmike). Negatives include relocation issues (China Palace/Budget), ingress/egress issues (existing center), taxable private development interest (Heritage) and must purchase land (Carmike).
"I think the team did an outstanding job of evaluating the sites," Hamilton said. "We're excited about receiving the final report, hopefully in about three weeks. The major first step in this process is selecting a site. If we get that done, show GDOT we're making progress, I think they're going to work with us on the funding.
"It may be wishful thinking on my part, but I'm confident we can move forward with a plan that's in everyone's best interest."