Renovations to the Brunswick Library may have been the kiss of death for the proposed Oglethorpe Convention Center.
Once the work is completed sometime in April, the library, located about two blocks from the proposed convention center, will have a meeting room with a capacity of 400.
Former Glynn County Commissioner Richard Strickland, who decided not to seek another term in office last year, believes the library renovations made it difficult for city officials to move forward with the Oglethorpe project. It would have required the city to get a $5 million loan to build the convention center, estimated to cost about $7.1 million. The remainder of the money would have come from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue approved specifically for the convention center.
“I don’t know what the city plans to do,” Strickland said. “All along, this has been a city project. It’s always been up to them to get this project moving.”
Another detriment to the project may have been a feasibility study that estimated the center would lose at least $1.5 million in the first five years of operation.
County Commission Chairman Mike Browning said he has no idea what the city plans to do since the county recently rejected a city proposal to extend the deadline another two years to build the center.
“That’s a question for the city,” he said. “I’ve watched this from the sidelines like everyone else.”
Brunswick City Manager James Drumm said city officials are still exploring their options and the project could still go forward.
“It hasn’t officially died,” he said. “There is still a decision to be made. We’re going to sit down and work it out.”
Drumm said a workshop will be held in coming weeks to discuss the city’s options, including building a smaller, less costly convention center or abandoning the project and finding another use for the estimated $3 million in SPLOST money.
Another option would be for the city to build the convention center at another site instead of on property the county gave the city under the condition a convention center was built there.
“They can put that convention center anywhere they please,” Browning said. “We have to consider anything they bring to us.”
The only role the county has played with regards to the convention center was setting a deadline for building it on the tract donated to the city.
“It was our land free and clear,” Browning said.
The city has been working on the convention center project since 2001, when funding was approved through the SPLOST tax. The most recent design for the proposed 20,000-square-foot center on the 1600 block of Newcastle Street called for a banquet hall with a capacity of 475 and railings to the building’s veranda.
“It’s hard to understand how this has gone on as long as it has,” Strickland said. “I”m not sure if there’s an answer at this time. Mayor Harvey has attempted to move this one.”
Harvey did not return phone calls and emails for comment.
Strickland said the county gave the city the option to use the SPLOST money for library renovations, which would have been legal for the use of the funds.
SPLOST projects are like a contract between voters and elected officials and the funds must be used for the specific projects listed.
“Money from the city set aside would have gone toward the library project,” he said.
If city officials decide to abandon the conference center, they have an opportunity to spend it on other projects, but it will ultimately be the voters who decide through a referendum question.
“What’s going to happen with the Oglethorpe project?” Strickland asked. “Who knows? I think it’s dead.”
If Strickland is correct, Browning said the county will have to determine what to do with the property.
“It would probably be bid as excess property,” he said. “It belongs to the taxpayers.”