By Tia Lynn Ivey
A zoo in Morgan County has been more than 5 years in the making. The Georgia Safari Conservation Park, planned to be constructed off Highway 83, is headed toward Phase I of construction.
“I think it’s good that our city has faith in the Safari Park. It is going to be good for our city, our county, and our community,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman at Monday night’s regular meeting.
The Madison and Mayor City Council approved a commitment letter to provide utility extension work for Georgia Safari Conversation Park, which could cost about $500,000.
“Once the construction of Phase 1 of the Georgia Safari Conservation Park has begun, the City of Madison will be extending water and sewer utilities along Highway 83 south of the I-20 interchange at exit 113 to the property that will be utilized bu the Safari Park,” said the letter from the city, which promises to put the project out to bid once the park receives full funding for Phase 1 of the park development. “We anticipate rapid development of the property within the city limits along and around this highway corridor with the construction of the Park and we will gladly provide utilities for this new economic engine for our City and region.”
The city will pay for the utility extension upfront, but the park will reimburse the city in the amount of $500,000. To secure optimal funding for the park, the city passed up a grant that would have provided up to half a million dollars in funding for the utility extension.
“They changed the rules,” said City Manager David Nunn, who explained that if the city had taken the grant, then the the park would not be eligible for “more lucrative” funding through the Tourism Development Act (TDA).
“This is a show of a good faith and confidence,” said Nunn. “We are taking a little bit more risk this way.”
Bill Killmer, manager of Georgia Safari Conservation Park, issued a letter committing to reimburse the city of utility extension work.
“Thank you, the Mayor, and the City Council for the commitment to bring water and sewer utilities south of I-20 along Highway 83 to the property that will contain the Georgia Safari Conservation park. GSCP, LLC, the holding company for the Safari Park, acknowledges the investment the City is making to bring the utilities to the project and is committing to reimburse the City of Madison for foregoing the OneGeorgia Grant funding up to $500,000 so that GSCP, LLC will have the opportunity to apply for the Georgia Tourism Development Act funds,” wrote Killmer.
Nunn noted the utility extension will also serve the needs of the area beyond the park.
“The utility extension will serve the anticipated growth in the area around Exit 113,” said Nunn.
Mike Conrads stressed to the council that TDA funding was almost certain for the park.
“We are very confident,” said Conrads, who said the TDA’s economic development team told park leader the project “lines up with the Tourism Development Act better than anything they have ever seen.”
“They approved our initial application,” said Conrads. “They would not approve that unless they thought they could take it to the finish line.”