On a clear, cool, sunny Thursday, members of the Liberty County business and government communities gathered in a peaceful, private setting at the former home of the late state Sen. Glenn E. Bryant to talk about the property’s future.
“Some of the basic features of the park will include approximately 7 acres of lawns where you can fly a kite on a day like today, or you can just run around with your kids and throw a Frisbee,” City Manager Billy Edwards said during the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Progress through People luncheon.
The Bryant Commons project’s objective is to open the land’s serenity to all by converting a once-heavily wooded plot with horse stables and pastures into a passive leisure space with an amphitheater and a 15-acre man-made pond.
Nearby, Timberlane Circle homeowners Marika Pyle and Rand Walsh, who have spoken against the project in a previous public hearing, still are strongly opposed to the development’s location and how it has come about.
Pyle, Walsh and some neighbors say that sharing the area depletes their own sense of peace.
“This used to be nothing but woods. This was a very secluded area here, and most people didn’t know there were people living back here,” Pyle said, pointing to the pond beyond her back window. “And we paid a pretty good penny to be living in this neighborhood due to the fact that it was secluded, it was safe and it was quiet.”
Pyle, who has been in the house for about 20 years, first learned that the property had been named Bryant Commons when she saw a flier for the 2010 Liberty Fest, which was held on the grounds.
That experience, she said, was a taste of what is to come when the amphitheater is complete. Cars crowded the shady street, blocking in some residents, and people walked through the residents’ private property to sneak into the festival and avoid the entry fee. It also was disruptively loud, she added.
“We all know what happens at concerts. There’s a lot of drinking going on, and hooting and hollering — it’s going to increase noise,” she said. In addition to the noise issues, the couple is concerned about how the area will be patrolled by police.
Before the public hearing last December, Walsh requested police reports for other public parks to quantify his concern over the park potentially becoming a home to criminal activity.
“There were hundreds — I’m not exaggerating — hundreds of calls to those parks in the last six months,” he said. “All of them had to do with fights, drugs, assaults, theft; and so my question for them was how are they going to protect us from that?”
Down the street, neighbor Amos Bacon, whose property is buffered by nearby Pineview Drive homes, also said he is opposed to the project and confirmed that most of the residents in the neighborhood have bonded together to voice their opposition, both in petitions and in the public hearing.
“We’re not for it,” Bacon said. “The noise, gangs — you’re messing the neighborhood up.”
Pyle also asserts that the planning process has been deceptive and filled with conflicting interests.
She has a copy of the original master plan that went before the Hinesville City Council for a vote, and it shows the Bryant property with the surrounding areas in white. It does not show the proximity of nearby homes, information she said could have affected the way the council members responded to the proposal.
“We feel that we were rolled under the bus. We feel that we’re being defrauded in regards to our property values,” she added.
But Pyle is not completely opposed to the idea of the amphitheater.
“People need to understand, we are not against the amphitheater — we are against the location of the amphitheater,” she said. “It needs to be in the country where people can, you know, actually still sleep.”
Relatives of the Bryants, who later created the Glenn E. and Trudie P. Bryant Foundation, assumed control of the 150-acre estate and approached the city of Hinesville about making it available for public use, Edwards said during the presentation.
“The foundation needed some infusion of additional capital to see come to life what they had in the backs of their mind regarding this project,” Edwards said during the presentation.
A joint management board with representatives from the city of Hinesville, Hinesville Downtown Development Authority, the Bryant Foundation and the Independent Telecommunications Pioneer Association oversees the project.
During the presentation, P.C. Simonton & Associates project engineer Marcus Sack updated attendees on the progress of the project and said it is on schedule for its first phase of completion, which includes the amphitheater with seating for 1,200-1,500 people, the pond and 7 acres of passive leisure space.
Sack also discussed some of the funding sources for the project, which include a loan for pond improvements from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority. The on-site pond also will serve as a drainage source for downtown, he said.
The project originally had a $4.6 million budget, Sack said, but thanks to a combination of grants and funds, the project will cost $1.5 million.
Afterward, HDDA Executive Director Vicki Davis led a curious crowd around the site. She explained how the areas will be used, discussed the immediate phases of construction and entertained questions.
“Eventually, we’re hoping that the use of the facilities will come closer to breaking even with the cost of the overhead,” Davis said.