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City OKs $150,000 for RiverQuarium

The Flint RiverQuarium is located in downtown Albany.

The Flint RiverQuarium is located in downtown Albany.

ALBANY, Ga. -- As Albany City Commissioners talked around COO Tommy Gregors' request for $150,000 in funding for the Flint RiverQuarium, it was Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike who cut quickly to the chase.

"The sales tax money we get from out-of-town visitors coming to the RiverQuarium is easily more than $150,000," Pike said after City Manager James Taylor indicated his Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal included no funding for the aquarium. "We'd be better off to put the RiverQuarium and the Civil Rights Institute in the budget rather than having to go back and change the budget every year.

"There's no way the seven people around this table are ever going to drain the RiverQuarium."

And so it was Tuesday, as the commission -- minus commissioners Ivey Hines and Bob Langstaff -- cast a non-binding vote to not only meet Gregors' request but to add $50,000 to the budget for the civil rights museum as well.

Taylor had warned the board before its vote at the last work session before next week's regular night meeting that approval of the requested funding would force him to hunt for other budget cuts.

"I have no plans to include this funding in the (FY 2014) budget," Taylor said in response to a question by Pike. "If you approve this request, you're going to have find money from somewhere else to replace it. And you know if we approve it, there's another one coming."

Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell took care of the expected request from the Civil Rights Institute by offering a friendly amendment to Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta's motion to approve Gregors' funding request.

"If we're going to give the RiverQuarium $150,000, I make a motion that we give the Civil Rights museum $50,000," Postell said.

Before the vote, Marietta suggested supplementing the attractions through the recently implemented increase in the city's hotel-motel tax.

"We want to change the conversation about the RiverQuarium," said Gregors, the executive director of the Thronateeska Heritage Center complex who has also taken on oversight of the aquarium's operations. "It's no longer about keeping the aquarium open; we're beyond that. It's about long-term sustainability."

Gregors said the RiverQuarium's board has begun a "50 for Albany" campaign seeking up to 50 individuals, businesses and agencies willing to commit to giving $450,000 to the aquarium for the next two years.

"We're more than halfway there," he said. "We already have 23 donors who have pledged $250,000."

Also at Tuesday's meeting, the commission gave enthusiastic endorsement to a memorandum of understanding with Albany Housing Authority offering support for the authority's plan to convert the blighted McIntosh Homes neighborhood into the revitalized Oaks at North Intown affordable housing development.

AHA Executive Director Dan McCarthy said the agency had been approved for one of 17 national HUD Choice Neighborhood Transformation Plan grants, and the memorandum of understanding is a next step in its quest to obtain a grant of up to $30 million to revitalize the West-Central Albany neighborhood.

Responding to a question, McCarthy said, "This document doesn't obligate the city to spend any money. The next one will, but what we'll be asking for is for the city to consider our development for CDBGs (Community Development Block Grants), SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) funding and infrastructure dollars.

"We have to have leverage of 1 1/2 to two times the total of the grant, and any of that that is supplied by the city helps us accumulate points that will help us have an opportunity to win the competitive bid process."

Mayor Dorothy Hubbard gave her endorsement of the plan.

"This has the potential to be a real asset to our community," she said. "And I'm pleased that you're involving the stakeholders and the residents in the planning process."

The city also voted to adapt a text amendment that would severely restrict commercial vehicles other than school buses, utility vehicles and emergency vehicles in residential neighborhoods. The amendment option was one of two brought before the Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission at its last meeting. The Planning Commission decided not to recommend either option presented by Planning Director Paul Forgey.

Commissioners OK'd a $3,076,645.60 bid from Oxford Construction Co. to resurface 18 1/2 miles of streets in the city. Among the streets approved for work are Gordon and Stuart avenues; Old Dawson Road; Madison, Washington and Monroe streets; Clark and Third avenues; Jackson and McIntosh streets; Broad, Gowan and Mercer avenues; Baker and Pace streets; and Relswood Terrace.

Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard, noting that only two streets in East Albany were on the paving list, said, "Don't forget next time there are streets on the eastside that are in bad shape. We pay taxes and drive over there, too."

Taylor replied, "We made the decision based on impact and condition (of the roads). If you can find another way to do it, I guess that's between you and God."