Time has a way of wearing down opposition. Like a parent giving in to a demand made incessantly from their child just to restore some peace and quiet, everyone has a breaking point.
We have spent a lot of time, especially over the last two years or so, talking about the plans for a convention center at the Oglethorpe Block in downtown Brunswick. It’s been a sticking point for the city since it was approved in a SPLOST vote in 2001. Since the money was collected for it, the project has barely gotten off the ground. It’s going to cost more than the money originally set aside to build.
With 18 years in the rear-view mirror, it would have been easy for the city commission to rubber-stamp a request made at its last meeting to approve a contract for pre-construction services and construction of the convention center. The commission didn’t though, voting 2-2 with one commissioner abstaining.
Commissioners Julie Martin and Johnny Cason voted against the measure, concerned that there is still no determined size for the center. The city attorney and city manager also recommended a size be determined before such a contract was approved.
Commissioner Felicia Harris abstained from voting either way. We applaud Harris’ astuteness by pressing pause on the topic. It’s something we think everybody involved in the project should do and consider just how much has changed since this convention center was approved.
The world is a lot different than it was 18 years ago. The idea of a convention center in downtown Brunswick is a worse idea now than it was back in 2001. Between competition and a design that at 20,000 square feet is estimated to lose money for the first five years, there is no financial data to show that project would be successful. A hotel has been mentioned in association with the project, but none have officially jumped in saying they would build if the center gets built.
Even if a smaller center and a hotel could be profitable on the site, we need to consider if that is the best use of such a prime piece of real estate as it relates to efforts to revitalize downtown Brunswick. Such a valuable piece of real estate could serve better uses, like bringing more housing to the area.
As the commission preps for a work session on the project at 2 p.m. Wednesday ahead of that day’s 6 p.m. regular commission meeting, we ask that they keep these issues in mind.
The original SPLOST vote had less than 17 percent of the population in 2001 participating in it a week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We need to look forward when it comes to the Oglethorpe Block. The question should be what will be best for the block’s future, instead of clinging to the past.