June 16, 2009
Neal Wagner -
Lowndes County government and economic development officials during the next few months will seek property options from 31 landowners in Columbus'' Burns Bottom area.
The 71-acre plot of land between the Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market and Highway 82 last week unofficially was chosen by several members of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors and Columbus City Council to possibly house the county''s sportsplex project.
The Burns Bottom land likely would come with about an $868,440 price tag, according to a cost-analysis study completed by the Neel-Schaffer engineering firm. Total cost, including construction of the sportsplex on the Burns Bottom land could cost about $4.1 million, according to the study.
The decision to seek property options from the Burns Bottom landowners came during a Monday morning meeting of the Board of Supervisors, where the motion unanimously was approved.
A property option is a common practice when county or local governments or economic development entities are attempting to secure land for economic development projects, according to Columbus-Lowndes Development Link Chief Executive Officer Joe Higgins.
A property option is an agreement between the government or economic development entity and the property owner. When a property owner signs an option agreement with the entity, the owner agrees to sell the property to the entity at a certain price within a set amount of time.
In the next 60 days, Higgins and other Link officials will meet with the Burns Bottom property owners in an attempt to secure property option agreements from the 31 landowners.
If the property owners sign the option agreements, they likely will agree to sell their property to Lowndes County within six months of the signing date, said District 1 Supervisor and Board President Harry Sanders.
"We will see if we can get a six-month option, but we can always extend that if we have any problems," Sanders said.
Higgins, Link Vice President of Economic Development Brenda Lathan and former county economic development official Charleigh Ford will meet with the Burns Bottom property owners before reporting back to the Board of Supervisors within 60 days.
"We will meet with them, tell them what we are doing, explain the project to them and address any concerns they may have," Higgins said. "We''ve secured options for three megasites in 30 days before, so I think 60 days is plenty of time for us on this one."
As discussed during the June 10 special meeting of the Board of Supervisors, City Council and officials with the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority, the sportsplex will consist of six playing fields, a playground area, parking and a concession and restroom building. Once completed, the sportsplex will house CLRA''s football and soccer programs.
Although an informal poll of officials at the June 10 meeting indicated preference for the Burns Bottom property, a "concrete" decision has not yet been made regarding the sportsplex location, said Sanders and District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks.
Columbus and Lowndes County officials also are considering a 156-acre tract of land near the Columbus Riverwalk and a 50-acre plot near the Highway 82 Macon-Meridian exit for the project. The Riverwalk property would cost about $474,864, and the property near the Macon-Meridian exit likely would total about $875,000, according to the Neel-Schaffer study.
"Nothing is concrete right now, but we are moving in a forward motion," Brooks said. "It''s difficult at best to try to work through this maze of 30 property owners."
Brooks and Sanders also explained they had received much feedback since the city-county June 10 meeting, and criticized some who have voiced disapproval of the board''s preference.
"I have received a host of e-mails, some nicer than others, and there have been a number of articles and columns written since then that are not helping things," said Brooks. "Please just let the process play out.
"There is only a limited amount of money available for this project," Brooks added. "To read some of the things that have been written since then; it''s just not helping the situation."
Sanders agreed, calling some local media commentary on the issue "scare tactics."
"It''s rare that I agree with (WCBI-TV Assignments Editor) Steve Rogers, but he made some good points in his (Dispatch) column yesterday," Sanders said Monday. "It was better than the scare tactics that were in (Dispatch Editor and Publisher) Mr. (Birney) Imes'' column.
"The Board of Supervisors was accused of having pre-conceived ideas about the sportsplex land," Sanders added. "Maybe whoever wrote that column has pre-conceived ideas."
Brooks called for those against the tentative Burns Bottom property selection to allow city and county officials to work as stress-free as possible.
"To create that kind of scare tactic just doesn''t help things," Brooks said. "Let us work with the least amount of pressure possible. In the end, it may not even be Burns Bottom."