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Developing exit 76 a priority, still
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Some things at Liberty County’s annual spring planning workshop remain unchanged, like the top goal of bringing development to the I-95 Exit 76, but there were some new features this year like the hand sanitizer on every table.

County leaders voted in 2018 to set Exit 76 as their top priority. The project was also the highest ranked at the 2019 spring workshop and is at the top of the list for 2020.

LCPC Executive Director Jeff Ricketson last year provided the Liberty County Development Authority with a master plan used in the successful development of an Indiana highway interchange. The Indiana plan could have been used as an example of what might be done in Liberty County, but the LCDA noted that the cost of the plan was more than $100,000 and said no.

The LCDA instead chose to try to use studies that have already been done. Ricketson provided master plans of Midway and Riceboro; these are several years old and Ricketson noted, “These plans are useful in that they provide guidance in land use and appearance, however they are missing specificity on water and sewer development and road improvements as well as industrial and commercial market analysis.”

One participant said improvements were needed in the blighted area of the interchange and U.S. Highway 84. “Every time I drive by there I ask myself,’ Where am I? Mississippi?’”

Discussion turned to neighboring Bryan County where a brand new interchange is near completion at I-95 and Belfast Siding Road. Ricketson pointed out one difference in the two interchanges: “Richmond Hill has a master plan; we don’t.” Another official said that only one property owner had to be dealt with for the Bryan County project. There are more than 10 at Exit 76. 

County Commissioner Connie Thrift said, “How many years are we going to stay on this project?”

Development Authority Executive Director Ron Tolley said property near the Exit 76 had been bought, possibly for a hotel. 

A wetlands study by the Army Corps of Engineers is under way; it will determine how much of the site is usable. 

The LCDA continues to market the interchange area, Tolley said. More information may be available at an authority meeting scheduled for Monday.

Two other priority needs were identified at the countywide planning workshop March 12-13: a large multi-use venue to host meetings and other events, and a site for family entertainment.

A military spouse said $35,000 had been spent recently on a battalion ball venue that was held outside of Liberty County because no facility on post or in Hinesville could accommodate it. 

The military frequently needs sites for large events, both official and social.

Other speakers said there was a need for a location for large Chamber of Commerce events, school graduations, weddings, proms, corporate functions and similar gatherings.

Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown said the city in the past had tried to meet these needs but had not been supported by stakeholders, especially the private sector.

County Administrator Joey Brown said, “A lot of the footwork on this has been done.” Preliminary designs and budget projections were in hand, he said, “Construction cost was the holdup.”

The Convention & Visitor Bureau, Joey Brown for the county and Hinesville City Manager Kenneth Howard will lead a renewed effort to gather information, identify funding and plan who will manage a new facility and how it will be managed.

The group linked what was termed connectivity with the goal of providing family-oriented entertainment. Connectivity includes outreach to let people know what activities are available along with basic information like location, operating hours, accessibility, transportation, etc.

Laser tag, bowling and arcade games were mentioned as examples of family activities. One official said, “This is not going to the park.” County Commissioner Justin Frasier, Hinesville Councilman Karl Riles, City Manager Kenneth Howard and Assistant City Manager Ryan Arnold will work on this goal, aiming to have a draft plan in 90 days.

Availability of hand sanitizer was not the only evidence of the corunavirus crisis at the workshop. 

Christopher Nunn, commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs and a scheduled speaker, was unable to attend because of pressing events in Atlanta as the General Assembly suspended its session.

Another speaker, Col. Bryan Logan, Fort Stewart’s garrison commander, was prevented by urgent duties from attending.

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