Hinesville is the only metropolitan statistical area that doesn’t have a conference center, and although Hinesville has the second highest expenditures for family recreation in the Southeast, it doesn’t have a family entertainment center.
That’s what Assistant City Manager Ken Howard told city leaders as part of an economic feasibility report he presented during the city’s recent annual planning workshop. He told the council an entertainment center was definitely feasible for Hinesville, noting he has already talked with a developer who is interested. He also told the council an event center would benefit the entire community, that it was something community leaders should support.
“We’ve been working simultaneously, trying to bring in a family entertainment center as well as an event center,” Howard told the Courier at his city hall office Wednesday. “The family entertainment center would be primarily a private venture. However, there may be some opportunity for a public-private partnership. What that would do is allow us to utilize some tools that we have through the Hinesville Development Authority to incentivize it.”
Howard said possible incentives include issuing bonds, tax breaks or special interest rates. He defined a family entertainment center as a small amusement park that’s not a tourist attraction. It’s mostly for families with children, he said. Amenities offered could include bowling, laser tag, arcade games, batting cages, driving range, go-carts and food, he said. He explained that a family entertainment can be an enclosed building like Chucky Cheese or something like The Clubhouse in Statesboro.
Hinesville has a relatively high median income and low poverty, he said, and Hinesville residents spend more money per capita on sports and recreation than most cities of similar size. He emphasized an entertainment center should not just be local but should attract families throughout the area.
“We feel that our priority (however) is for the event center (which) has been placed on the special local option sales tax referendum for the upcoming election,” he said. “If it passes, the city through the HDA will receive an estimated $900,000 over the next six years.”
To prepare for that possibility and to save costs, he said they have already developed a design for a medium-size center — 20,000 square feet — that’s capable of accommodating banquets for more than 800 people and an auditorium that seats up to 1,400 people. The concept he presented at the workshop could accommodate not only business conferences but proms, weddings, reunions, plays and planning workshops.
Howard praised the efforts of the Liberty County Convention and Business Bureau, but said without a center, many events have had to go elsewhere.
“It will fill a void by providing amenities and services our citizens deserve and businesses need but currently don’t have,” Howard said, saying the project would require a community effort. “It would enhance the quality of life for all our citizens.”
Following his presentation at the workshop, city leaders decided to wait to see if SPLOST passes in November before they act. Howard said if it does pass, an event center could be completed in about two years. He said a family entertainment center would soon follow.