The Glynn County Commission unanimously approved a request Thursday from the city of Brunswick to extend an agreement over the Oglethorpe Block to 2022.
In 2016, the city and county signed an agreement turning over the property at 1609 Newcastle St. to the city at no cost on the condition that it make “substantial” headway on a conference center slated for the lot. The agreement included a deadline of April 2019.
In December 2018, the city requested the county commission extend the deadline to April 2021. The county denied the request at the time, citing the city’s lack of progress on the project.
“The reason we did not approve it a year ago is that they also voted not to borrow the necessary funding — which I think was on the order of about $6 million — a year ago to move forward with the project,” said commissioner Peter Murphy.
Named after the historic Oglethorpe Hotel once located in downtown Brunswick, the conference center planned for 1609 Newcastle St. has been in the works for quite a while. Roughly $3 million collected from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax IV, passed in 2001, and V, passed in 2007, is tied up in the project.
City commissioners have gone back and forth over the last few years over how large the conference center should be — some commissioners want a smaller, less expensive 14,000 square foot facility while some advocate for a larger 20,000 square foot center — and where to get the rest of the money needed to build it — estimates have come in as high as $8.1 million, more than $5 million more than the city has left from SPLOST.
This time around the city was asking for an April 2022 deadline on the agreement, and Murphy was concerned with the perception that the city still was making little progress.
“Yesterday there was a large (Brunswick City Commission) meeting, several hours, and at the meeting, they authorized $6,000 for pre-construction analysis. I’m just wondering, is there really a firm commitment on the part of the city and the city (commission) to move forward when they can’t decide what size unit they want to complete?” Murphy said.
He continued, asking whether or not the city really needed the extension if it had a partner hotel waiting in the wings.
“And furthermore if there is somebody that is a hotelier that would be instrumental in getting this done and they really are on the sidelines ready to move forward, it would seem like we don’t need a three-year period of time,” Murphy said.
The commission should consider taking the 2022 deadline out of the agreement entirely, he said.
“It seemed to be that the three years with substantial completion is what the city wanted,” said commissioner Bill Brunson. “I got the same heartburn you do, I think all of us do. But I don’t want to stand in the way of the city if they do have a hotel.”
Commissioner Allen Booker assured his fellow commissioners the city had not one, but two possible hotel chains willing to open on the Oglethorpe block.
“I think the hotel piece is coming, it’s just deciding on the size of the conference center,” Booker said.
Murphy also said he was worried the city would miss out on a good opportunity by focusing too much on the conference center and hotel.
The block has room for other development, Booker said, which could start anytime.
The city claimed one of the hotel chains would not commit until the deadline extension was approved, said commissioner Wayne Neal, and for that reason, he felt he had to support the move.
“They tell us the hotel will not announce until they know that they have confirmation we’re going to extend this. So in good faith, I feel like I’m going to have to support this,” Neal said.
The commission ultimately voted 7-0 to approve the deadline extension.
In other business, the county commission voted to approve:
• Covering a $785,000 budget shortfall with money from the county’s unassigned reserves.
• A request to abandon a section of an alleyway in the 17th block of the East Beach subdivision, behind 4310 Ninth St., on St. Simons Island.
• An alcohol license for Local Brew Coffeemakers at 26 Market St. on St. Simons Island.
• A conditional use permit to allow a 14,400 square foot self-storage facility at 272 Southport Parkway.
• A request from the Glynn County Police Department to trade 56 firearms — including three 37mm launchers, 30 Remington 870 shotguns, 10 Mossberg 590 shotguns, 10 Heckler & Koch UMP 45 submachine guns and a German MP 40 submachine gun — and 10 firearm attachments for 22 Sig Sauer patrol rifles and attachments valued at just under $30,000.
• A $1 million grant with the Georgia Department of Transportation with a $300,000 local match for road maintenance and repair.
The commission also deferred a request to increase the State Court Solicitor’s budget by $36,000 so the office can contract an additional attorney.
The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 19.