The authority proposed the county allow the authority to use this amount for a down payment on the old post gym, so the 6th Cavalry Museum could move from a city-owned building on Barnhardt Circle to the more visible site on LaFayette Road.
“We asked them to give us time to work with the DDA on a plan and bring it back to them. And they said yes,” museum executive director Chris McKeever said.
As of 11 a.m. Friday, April 20, county officials could not be reached for comment.
“The $150,000 is still set aside for improvements on the existing building the 6th Cavalry is in,” DDA chair Jeff Epperson said. “But they (the county) are willing to discuss options. (Fort Oglethorpe city council member) Earl Gray said maybe the county and the city need to sit down and talk.”
“We felt like (the issue) needed to be approached a different way,” Gray said. “The county can do the same thing with the DDA it was going to do with the city – because it is a government agency.”
The DDA took over the effort to relocate the museum after the city council rejected the county’s lease proposal on April 9. City council members voted 4-1 not to enter into a lease agreement with the county. The county would have retained ownership of the post gym – because the funding was raised through a one-penny sales tax – and the city would have been financially responsible to the county for the museum’s maintenance and operational costs.
Authority members were concerned the commission might not preserve the initial $150,000 for the museum, Epperson said.
McKeever said the SPLOST funds were set aside three years ago to make the existing building’s restrooms handicap accessible and install porches and columns to help the museum’s façade blend in with other historic structures on Barnhardt circle. She said the original plan was to refurbish display cases with UV protective lighting and possibly install an elevator in the two-story building.
Epperson said the authority wanted to ensure the county would not direct the $150,000 toward other county projects, like the courthouse renovation. The county assured the DDA the funds were still earmarked to upgrade the city-owned building that now houses the museum, he said.
The DDA had previously discussed putting a $100,000 down payment on the old post gym, and setting aside $50,000 to pay the museum’s operational costs for one year should the county agree to reallocate the funds. The authority would then borrow the remaining amount needed to buy the old post gym, Epperson previously said.
Judy O’Neal, who owns the building, made it plain to the city council on April 9 that she would not sell the historic structure unless it was bought for the museum’s use.
Epperson told The Catoosa Counthy News he spoke with O’Neal on April 18, and confirmed she was still willing to sell the building. O’Neal had previously set a sale price of $350,000.
Gray said the DDA would have more options than the city would have had as a tenant of the county. He said the authority should have greater access to loans and grants and can “work more closely with the museum.”
“I think there’s a way to make it work. There’s still a viable option if the county is willing to do it. Hopefully we can get it ironed out,” Gray said.
Gray said he voted against the county’s lease proposal because of the way it was written. He feared taxpayers would be on the hook if the museum was not successful in raising money for repairs and operational costs.
McKeever said the museum board had planned to initiate a capital campaign and host special events at the old post gym to generate revenue.
Epperson said the DDA, with approval from the museum board, would bring a proposal back to the county.
“The museum board is going to have to look at all its options,” McKeever cautioned.