Commission Looking At Big House

The Jeff Davis County Commission, in a called meeting last week, agreed to get estimates on the cost of fixing up The Big House and explore the possibility of moving the Chamber of Commerce and Joint Development Authority offices into the building to bring those two organizations and the Board of Tourism under the same roof.
But it wasn’t easy.
Whitehead Commissioner Brad Crews expressed his concern that, due to the age of the historic structure, the county would throw money at the building forever. “I think it’s unfair that the taxpayers be burdened with that,” he said. “I think it needs to be sold. It’s something all the time.”
Tourism Director Jim Sewell countered that the cost to the county for upkeep is “virtually nothing.” Tourism is totally funded by the Hotel-Motel Tax and tourism pays for utilities and upkeep. Extensive repairs are paid through Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Sewell explained that when tourism was located in the chamber office building, the chamber paid the utilities and tourism and the development authority paid rent to the chamber. If the chamber and development authority moved into The Big House, tourism would be hard pressed to justify spending tourism dollars to cover the increased utilities costs, indicating that the chamber and development authority would have to help with the costs.
Terry Stone, who is a chamber director, development authority member and on the board of tourism, pointed out that The Big House sells the community better than the old former REA building in which the chamber and authority are located. “We can sell our city and county better in The Big House,” she said.
Crews also was concerned that turning the facility into an office building would hinder the public’s use of the building for activities such as weddings, reunions, parties, etc.
But Development Authority Executive Director Andrea Taylor said that, when she worked with the development authority in Douglas, the authority office was located in the Ashley-Slater House. She used the upstairs for offices, and the community used the downstairs for public activities. Taylor said the plan for The Big House was for the chamber and authority offices to be located upstairs, and public functions could still be held;d downstairs.
Taylor also pointed out that a lot of people come into the chamber office to get brochures or ask for information and the present facility does not put a good face forward. “That chamber is your front door,” she explained, adding that the majestic Big House would put a much more welcoming face on the community.
With public offices located on the second floor, the building would need to be brought into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The building is equipped with an old elevator but it is not certified for operation and is not in use. In the latest SPLOST, $100,000 was approved for The Big House and, as Sewell explained, the needed interior painting was done with prisoner labor so only $10,000 of the $100,000 was spent for paint. Ocmulgee Commissioner Vann Wooten said he thought the remaining $90,000 should be spent to fix the building and the commissioners needed to see what needed to be done to the building, to include fixing the existing elevator.
The four commissioners present for the meeting (Blackburn Commissioner Hank Hobbs was absent) voted unanimously to get those costs.
In other action, the commissioners ….
…. accepted the bid for new tractors from Ocmulgee Outdoors.
…. adopted a resolution to establish an area roundtable to consider extending the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST).

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