Dalton City Council votes to build aquatics center at James Brown Park

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Feb. 8—Dalton City Council members voted 4-0 Monday to build an aquatics center at James Brown Park, not on property at Dalton Mall as originally planned.

The council members approved an amendment to the city's contract with Dalton's KRH Architects to design the aquatics center at the 36-acre James Brown Park at 904 Civic Drive and to increase the budget to $23 million from $20 million. The center will be built on the northeast end of the campus at the corner of Avenue C and Mitchell Street.

"It will allow for a campus design, due to the ongoing renovation of the John Davis Recreation Center (which is in the same park)," said City Administrator Andrew Parker.

"We are very excited that we will be able to design this as a full recreation campus, with basketball, soccer and aquatics," said Parker.

In March 2021 city officials announced that Hull Property Group, the Augusta-based developer that owns the Dalton Mall and leases the land the mall is on, had donated to the city the lease on 8.38 acres of undeveloped land near the AMC movie theaters where the city planned to build the aquatics center. The remainder of that lease is 56 years.

At the time, several council members said they believed that was sufficient. But they say they began to rethink the idea of making such a large investment on land the city doesn't own. In December, council members asked Hull to try to negotiate with the property owners, the Patterson and Dill family, to obtain title to the land and then donate that to the city.

"We couldn't make that deal work," said Mayor David Pennington.

"The Patterson and Dill family are very disappointed that the city could not make the economics work to build the aquatics center at the Dalton Mall site, which our family owns and leases to Hull Property Group," said Deena Dill, a family spokesperson. "We feel like it would have been a great benefit for the city, for that area and certainly for the mall property itself. But our family is not in a situation to be able to gift the property to the city, which is what we were asked to do."

Parker said the city looked at different options but wasn't able to purchase the property.

"The city was unable to offer purchase of the mall property because all available project funding is needed for construction of the aquatics center," he said. "We evaluated several options like a potential property swap and donation from Hull Property Group, but at the end of the day, we simply couldn't reach an arrangement that was acceptable to all parties involved. We are appreciative to the Patterson family in consideration of our request. At this time, we're very excited for the opportunity to construct this project at the James Brown Park and deliver a multipurpose recreational campus to the community."

John Mulherin, vice president for government relations at Hull, said the company was involved "in the periphery of the negotiations, advising the city." He referred questions about the talks to city officials.

"We wanted to build out there primarily to provide an anchor to that side of town and to spur economic development in that area," Pennington said. "In just about every other regard, it makes more sense to build at James Brown. We will continue to look for an anchor for that area."

Parker said a site plan hasn't been finalized but the city's "architect and engineers believe moving the project to James Brown will result in a minimum of a $250,000 savings in site development/infrastructure costs."

"The utilities are pretty much ready and in place to serve the aquatics center," he said. "At the mall, we have some utility lines that were going to have to be relocated and upgraded. Also, a lot of paving and curb work was going to have to be completely refigured for the footprint, but James Brown is a blank canvas."

Council members also voted 4-0 to approve a contract not to exceed $10,000 with Geo-Hydro Engineering of Kennesaw to measure the ground water level at James Brown Park.

If the land passes that test, the aquatics center will be built at James Brown Park. City officials say that, based on previous studies, they expect the park will pass that test.

"The city has expended $23,025 to date on the (aquatics center) project, and the geotechnical services approved by council (Monday) night will now also be encumbered against the project account," Parker said.

The rec center will be renovated with about $4.1 million from the four-year, $66 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) approved by voters in May 2020.

The aquatics center will be built with a mixture of funds from $21 million in bonds issued by the city last year and its fund balance. The city will receive $8.9 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Parker said the city will use that money to pay for public safety, freeing up money for projects such as the aquatics center.

The aquatics center is expected to have a 50-meter, competition-sized swimming pool as well as a 25-yard by 25-yard multipurpose pool that could be used for physical therapy. The city will keep the outdoor pool at the rec center.

Pennington typically votes only if there is a tie.