Hogansville council tables theater discussion, doesn’t vote to approve downtown master plan

Published 5:39 pm Tuesday, April 17, 2018

HOGANSVILLE — Over the last few months, the city of Hogansville has held public hearings for two separate master plans — one to revitalize the city’s downtown and another to determine the future of the historic Royal Theater.

Both items were discussed during Monday’s City Council meeting, but no official vote was taken on either.

In front of a standing room only crowd, the council voted to table the discussion on the theater, electing to first visit other cities before deciding which direction to proceed. The decision on the theater was moved to the second council meeting date in May, which is scheduled for May 21.  The downtown master plan never reached a vote during the Monday meeting.

Downtown plan

During Monday’s meeting, Councilman Fred Higgins made a motion to approve the downtown master plan, but there was no second motion and the motion failed.

“I’ll ask again, is there a second?” said Mayor Bill Stankiewicz, before waiting 10 seconds. “The motion fails.”

Every seat in the room was taken and dozens of others were sitting or standing around the room. When the motion failed, a large group of the room walked out in frustration at the decision, or lack of a decision, as the council moved on to the next subject on the agenda.

City Manager David Milliron said Tuesday that councilman Reginald Jackson asked for the downtown master plan to get added to the agenda for Thursday’s work session. It was added to the new agenda, available on the City of Hogansville’s website.

The Georgia Conservancy created the downtown master plan and has held numerous public meetings at the Hogansville Public Library to get feedback. While the Downtown Development Authority approved the plan in late March, Mayor Pro Tem Theresa Strickland said the council didn’t have all of the information on the master plan and thought a joint meeting with the DDA last month was rushed.

The plan includes ways to revitalize downtown Hogansville, including adding to the city’s hummingbird narrative with more bird feeders, bird houses and hummingbird murals. It recommended more live music, performing arts and the creation of Hummingbird Park, which would be across from the Royal Theater. It also included a plan for a Hummingbird Trail, which would add to the current Tower Trail.

The plan’s total cost was $32,000, with the Downtown Development Authority footing $20,000 and a private donor paying the remaining $12,000, according to meeting minutes from the DDA in August of 2017.

“We need to make sure we are thorough, to make sure everyone has all the information they need,” Strickland said, while holding a copy of the final master plan. “I would have liked if this was available when we had that joint meeting and then had discussion afterward.”

Before the vote, City Manager David Milliron and Community Development Director Lynne Miller discussed what approving the downtown master plan would mean for the city’s future.

“If the city council would also adopt the downtown master plan, that will enable you to apply to the state for a new program that will give state tax credits to our existing businesses and new businesses if they are creating jobs or investing or renovating their buildings,” Miller said. “There are also some other programs that require a city-adopted downtown master plan, so really what we are asking for and recommending is that the city council does adopt this.”

Milliron said that adopting the plan wouldn’t force any action from the council in the future.

“This is not a commitment on the council. It is very much like when you adopt your comprehensive plan,” Milliron said. “It is a roadmap. Ultimately anything that is in the plan, for the most part, needs council approval unless it’s on private property or otherwise regulated.”

Stankiewicz brought the plan back up before asking to adjourn the meeting, noting that the city is likely to regret the inaction.

“I think the City of Hogansville will come to regret not making that decision on adoption of the downtown master plan,” Stankiewicz said. “It is critical that we have a plan, and we work the plan. We spent a lot of money, the DDA spent a lot of money, developing that plan, and I think it needs to be adopted. It is critical that we adopt that plan.”

Strickland responded, saying that the council was not going to rush a decision.

“My concern is we need to make sure this council is informed. A lot of things were decided and put together behind the scenes,” Strickland said.

“The information we were given, oftentimes throughout this year has been last-minute, and then we are expected to make a decision. I implore the staff and the mayor to make sure we are getting information timely, that we are getting all the information to make a decision. We aren’t here to block programs, but I think we can speak for the council by saying we aren’t going to make a rash decision. This is on our backs, and we take our jobs seriously.”

Royal Theater plan

The theater plan also did not move forward. Councilman George Bailey made a motion to table the theater discussion until the second meeting of May, and the motion passed 4-1. Higgins was the only councilman opposed.

Bailey recommended the council take trips to Manchester and Dublin or other cities that have had similar projects.

The theater plan was on the agenda because the architects of the project, Carter Watkins Associates, were asking for direction on how to move forward. The city received a grant from the Fox Theater last year for $29,000 to pay for half of the cost of the master plan for the theater building, but if the architects can’t meet their deadline the city might have to pay for the full $58,000 price tag.

The Royal Theater, which currently houses city hall, is not currently compliant with the American Disabilities Act and needs more than a million dollars in renovations to remain as city hall.

If it were to be renovated back into a performing arts center, grants are available that — if approved —would help pay for a large portion, if not all, of the cost. The city also has $700,000 in SPLOST V money set aside for renovations to the theater.

“To keep city hall here, there is almost no grant or award or anything like that that can help pay for it,” Miller said. “To turn it into a theater, and to move over to another building, there are quite a few different grant sources and so forth that can help with that, including your SPLOST.

“If there is no decision at all, Carter Watkins has a deadline of June to finish their plan and Fox Theater could terminate their contract. Then, you would be paying the full $58,000.”

According to information from Carter Watkins, it would cost approximately $1.8 million to fully renovate the theater for either purpose.

However, grants are available that would pay for all of the renovations for the theater.  Several council members asked about the likelihood of receiving grants for the theater.

“If we do not get these grants, where would this money be coming from?” Jackson asked.

Miller said the theater would be developed in stages, so if the city didn’t initially receive a grant, it would reapply.

“The unfortunate thing is there isn’t really an option,” Milliron said. You can stay in city hall as-is only for as long as we don’t have any ADA complaints or any issues with that.”

If the council does vote to restore the theater as a performing arts center, then city hall would have to move into another building.

Milliron said that part might be taken care of.

“There is a large land owner in the city who has agreed to purchase the PNC building and donate it back to the city as use as city hall,” Milliron said.

Milliron said a vote moving forward with restoration of the theater would’ve given staff the opportunity to apply for grants. If the council wanted to change its mind down the road, he said they were the ones “driving the car” and could do so.

“The staff, based on where we are with Carter Watkins, is asking for you to go ahead and take the emergency brake off,” Milliron said. “Go ahead and make the commitment and allow staff to make applications for those grants, because ultimately this body has to approve any recipients of grants and any contracts of any work.”

The council will meet for a work session Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at city hall.