ST. SIMONS ISLAND — Liberty County’s annual countywide planning workshop started Wednesday at The King and Prince resort.
County and city leaders gathered to discuss new initiatives and review activities in their departments across the county.
Status reports were given on the three topics leaders chose in April 2015 to tackle for the year: business development, the Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax and branding.
Last year's topics
Jeff Ricketson, the executive director of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, briefly talked about some new businesses developing in the county, including a Parker’s convenience store and gas station in Walthourville and retail businesses in unincorporated areas.
Hinesville Assistant City Manager Kenneth Howard discussed the recent Mayor’s Small Business Conference and the coming Oglethorpe Square shopping center. He noted that Hobby Lobby, T.J. Maxx, PetSmart, LongHorn Steak House and Dick’s Sporting Goods are confirmed for the shopping center. There are still ongoing negotiations with other retailers. Howard estimated the shopping center would generate $50 million to $70 million in retail sales and provide more than 250 jobs.
Other ongoing initiatives Howard mentioned include a business incubator and pursuing a family entertainment center in the city.
County Administrator Joey Brown presented the SPLOST VI project list, which will come before voters in November. Brown discussed each line item, including paying down the Justice Center debt, building new fire stations, realigning Ryon Avenue with Oglethorpe Highway, funds for historical and cultural sites and funding for the municipalities.
Leah Poole, the CEO of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, was not able to attend the morning portion of the workshop to present on promoting Liberty County as a brand. She created a video, in which she discussed how the Chamber and CVB are promoting the county and incorporating Liberty’s new brand, “The Right Blend.” The logo, which shows a Mason jar filled with tea, has been featured at trade shows and conventions and on giveaway items, such as bags and T-shirts.
She added that the county hosted travel writers, and an article about Liberty was featured in the Philadelphia Sun. Poole talked about TV shows and movies filming in the area and added that a film-permitting process should be implemented.
Department and county updates
County leaders then gave updates on their departments and new initiatives. Updates included:
- Liberty County Development Authority CEO Ron Tolley said every building in the county that can accommodate a manufacturing company is full.
- A sidewalk was completed in Flemington along Oglethorpe Highway that connects restaurants and hotels. Road-improvement projects have also been completed.
- All residents in Riceboro, along 159 residents just outside the city, are connected to the city’s sewer system. Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin also talked about the city moving forward with its water-well project.
- Midway Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington talked about improvements at the Cay Creek Wetlands Interpretive Center, plans for a new city hall complex and removing unsafe, rotted trees from Martin Road.
- More than 35,000 people have visited Bryant Commons in Hinesville over the past year. The Hinesville Farmers Market has earned $200,000 a year and now accepts EBT.
- Residents voted to renew the 1 percent Education Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax in Tuesday’s general primary election.
- Liberty County High and Button Gwinnett Elementary schools will be renovated over the summer. Athletic tracks at LCHS and Bradwell Institute will also be upgraded.
After a morning of recaps, attendees then broke for lunch. During lunch, guest speaker Dan Bucey, of Resource Land and Consultants, discussed how wetland areas are being reclassified. Properties are being classified as wetland areas that previously were not designated as such. He discussed the potential impact on future development.
Returning from lunch, leaders and department representatives heard from Melissa Jones, LCPC planner II, about the Liberty County Comprehensive Plan. She explained the process of putting the plan together and some of its critical components.
There was an open forum that allowed for attendees to talk about which issues and initiatives require an action plan. Suggestions included beautification projects for the county’s three gateway cities —Walthourville, Riceboro and Midway — having the HInesville Housing Authority collaborate with other cities, SPLOST, building more homes for veterans, creating bike-riding paths in Hinesville, cell towers that provide Wi-Fi access for students learning through digital education, permit process for the local film industry and support for the Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen, or REACH, program.
They voted on their top three issues to discuss on day 2 of the workshop: SPLOST, cell tower/Wi-Fi access for digital education and an effort to develop uniform, economic gateways in Riceboro, Midway and Walthourville.
During dinner, state Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, reviewed significant action taken during this year’s legislative session.
Liberty County Board of Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette was honored and presented with a gift for serving on the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority board. He will resign from the HDDA board.