Hogansville council should approve plans for downtown revitalization, restoring theater as arts center

Published 7:18 pm Wednesday, April 18, 2018

There were two big items on the agenda at Monday night’s city council meeting in Hogansville. One was a master plan for downtown Hogansville, the other a master plan for the Royal Theater. Both had been discussed for months, though plans for the Royal Theater have been discussed for much longer, since city hall was moved into the iconic structure in December of 1984.

No official vote was held on either plan. The downtown master plan received a motion, but died with no second motion from the council. It will be brought back before the council today, after being added to the agenda for today’s work session.

The Royal Theater discussion was tabled so that the council has time to visit other cities with similar renovated theaters, an idea that would have made more sense months ago.

Neither one of these plans snuck up on the council. The downtown master plan has been presented numerous times in public forums in Hogansville. The last of those meetings occurred March 19 at the public library, and eight days later Hogansville’s Downtown Development Authority approved the downtown plan.

That was nearly a month ago.

Councilwoman Theresa Strickland argued Monday that the council did not have all of the information in enough time to make a decision on the downtown plan. While we agree that the council should not be expected to make a rushed decision, that was not the case here.

Not only did the council have a joint meeting with the DDA last month, but it has also had the opportunity to work back and forth with the Georgia Conservancy to get any questions answered over the past several months.

Also, voting to approve the downtown plan does not lock the council into anything. Every part of that plan would require council approval, unless a portion happened to fall on private property. City Manager David Milliron described the plan as a roadmap for the city to work with, which is an apt description.

That’s not to mention that the DDA and a private donor combined to pay $32,000 for the creation of the plan — money that would go to waste if the plan isn’t approved.

The plan from the Georgia Conservancy outlines ways the city can immediately attract more people to live and shop in Hogansville, while also identifying long-term opportunities for growth. Some of the ideas are as simple as painting business doors in a colorful manner or playing into the city’s hummingbird theme.

Others are more complicated, such as creating a larger downtown park.

Mayor Bill Stankiewicz has said repeatedly that the city needs to grow to alleviate debt, but Hogansville’s population has basically been stagnant since the early 1990s. Adopting a master plan, that has cost in excess of $30,000 to create, is the obvious next step for the city’s sustainability efforts.

Also, the mere presence of a plan increases the chances for the city to receive grants and tax credits. Having a downtown plan serves as a door-opener, allowing the city to display an overall vision.

Although the master plan vote was a surprise, the lack of a decision on the theater plan was baffling.

Architects from Carter Watkins Associates have identified two different ways the Royal Theater can be used moving forward — as city hall or as a community arts space. That information has been given back to the city. To have the master plan created for the theater cost $58,000, half of which was granted to the city by the Fox Theatre Institute.

The council elected to kick the can down the road one more time Monday, and it could be costly. Carter Watkins Associates has a deadline to meet in June, and if that deadline isn’t met, the city may be on the hook for the full $58,000. Assuming Hogansville doesn’t have an extra $29,000 just laying around, the decision to punt this discussion to late May could potentially send taxpayer dollars up in smoke. 

From a financial perspective, the decision needed seems obvious.

It will cost around $1.8 million to renovate the Royal Theater for either purpose, but the city’s price tag will be significantly less — and maybe nonexistent — if it chooses to turn the theater back into a performing arts center. Grants are available to renovate the theater that would pay for the total cost. Many of the experts the city has been in contact with believe that Hogansville would have a good chance to win grants to cover much, if not all, of the cost.

Pair those grants with $700,000 in SPLOST funding set aside for the theater, and you’ve got a good portion of the funding needed. Per the city, a private donor has also agreed to purchase the PNC Bank building and give it to the city to use as city hall, if the council votes to restore the theater. That’s another major potential headache taken care of.

To keep the theater as city hall, it will cost close to $1 million it doesn’t have. The SPLOST money will be unavailable if the city elects to go this route.

As if that wasn’t enough, city hall isn’t currently compliant with the American Disabilities Act, and as such is a lawsuit waiting to happen. If a new business opens in Hogansville, it is required to be ADA compliant, so it is incredibly hypocritical on the city’s part to not meet those same guidelines.

The Royal Theater is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the most iconic landmark in the city of Hogansville. We wrote a story in January detailing the building’s history, and talked to a number of people about what it means to them.

At one time, the Royal was a booming theater that brought in visitors from all over Georgia, and now has a chance to help Hogansville turn the corner, grow and attract more business. We hope the council will do the right thing and vote in favor of the downtown master plan, hopefully as soon as today. And we strongly urge the council to choose to renovate the Royal Theater as a performing arts center. Both are in the best interest of Hogansville long-term.

The maps have been laid out, city council members — now all you need to do is use them.