Despite buzz last year that Midway residents would be able to satisfy their Big Mac cravings without having to leave city limits, McDonald’s never did set up shop at the Highway 84/Interstate 95 interchange. Rumor had it that the halted restaurant plan boiled down to an expensive right-turn lane required by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The issue has resurfaced, though, and on Monday, the Liberty County Development Authority’s executive committee met to discuss a request they’ve received to consider partially funding that turn lane.
Board Chairman Allen Brown said he spoke with Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette, who asked whether the LCDA would consider contributing $50,000 to re-stripe the far-right side of Highway 84 east just before the I-95 overpass, thus creating a turn lane for motorists entering the proposed McDonald’s. The move would eliminate the center turn lane in that area.
The city of Midway, the county and the developer also likely would contribute money to the project, according to Brown, who didn’t have hard numbers regarding the exact cost of the lane, the anticipated revenue the new restaurant would generate or the amount of money that may be available for use through Midway’s share of SPLOST funds. However, the chairman said he thought the lane’s cost was somewhere around $200,000.
The committee debated the pros and cons of contributing to the project, but ultimately decided more information was needed.
“I really think that is one of the most underdeveloped interchanges in Georgia,” board Vice Chairman Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said.
LCDA CEO Ron Tolley agreed with Williams and pointed out the area stands to gain a great deal in terms of projected revenue and new business if the lane is built to improve access in that area.
“It would be hard for any plan to get better payback than this one,” he said.
However, LCDA board Secretary Brian Smith warned the other board members that they may set a dangerous precedent by approving such a request.
“I think what the real question begs is, is this the right thing for us to spend our money on?” said Smith, who is president of The Heritage Bank in Midway. “I feel very strongly against doing it. Less than a mile away, we applied for a permit to build a bank and the county made us pay $385,000” for road work.
He added that a busy, well-run McDonald’s stands to make millions annually, and thus should be able to afford to build a turn lane.
“Maybe they need to rethink their McDonald’s,” he said.
Brown said the Parker’s convenience store at the 84/95 interchange did pay to have the center turn lane installed when it opened.
Tolley and Williams acknowledged Smith’s point and said they, too, are wary of the affect the board’s decision could have on similar requests from other businesses.
“We could never deny another request like this one,” Williams said.
Brown told the board members that no immediate decision was required.
“I got a request for our executive committee to meet and be prepared to make a recommendation one way or another,” he said.
The meeting attendees decided to hold another meeting in a couple weeks during which representatives from all the project’s major “players” — the county, the city of Midway, McDonald’s and the LCDA members — would discuss several factors, including the projected revenue a new McDonald’s would generate and the project’s total cost. The LCDA executive-committee members also plan to ask about other funding options, such as having Midway cover more of the project with SPLOST money or having McDonald’s pay for the lane.
The committee also addressed Liberty County Chamber of Commerce CEO Leah Poole’s request for solutions pertaining to her organization’s space limitations.
The chamber is a little over a year into its second five-year agreement with the LCDA to lease office space at a monthly rate that graduates by $170 each year. That lease was approved by the LCDA board in March 2013. Under the terms of that agreement, the chamber paid $1,302 per month for the first 12 months. During the second year, the chamber will pay $1,472 per month; $1,642 during the third year; $1,812 during the fourth; and $1,982 during the fifth.
Poole said the chamber is maxed out when it comes to office space for staff, and they have nowhere to store items and supplies they use for events, such as tables, chairs, tablecloths, vases, decorations and promotional items. Currently, the chamber rents four 12-by-12 storage units at a monthly cost of $65 each.
“We just don’t really know what we’re going to do for space because we’re basically out of space in the back, but we continue to grow. I just don’t know if there is a solution to this,” Poole said.
Even though the chamber does expect to grow and add staff in the next three to five years, at which time more offices will be needed, the CEO said her main immediate concern is storage space.
Committee members tossed around the idea of letting the chamber use an empty data office and a section on the building’s second story for storage, but it still wouldn’t be enough to eradicate the need for storage units.
Poole said she was considering asking the city of Hinesville about the possibility of using space in the Bryant Commons warehouse, where the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority stores its supplies.
A definitive plan was not put in place, but Poole said she’ll need a solution in the next two years.
“We’re not bringing this to you for an immediate solution,” she said. “It’s just something to think about going forward.”