Stockbridge to decide future of Multiplex

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

No one knows exactly what will happen at the current site of the downtown Stockbridge building known as the Multiplex. But the City Council is in total agreement that the building needs to go.

The structure purchased in 2013 by the city and most recently occupied in part by Academy Theatre is in need of a large number of repairs, city manager Michael Harris told the council at its Aug. 8 regular meeting.

An engineering firm contracted by the city did a “full property assessment,” Harris said, and the findings indicate that it would cost just over $1.5 million to do the necessary rehab on the building as well as the buildout on the portion not currently in use. The largest chunk of that cost is about $600,000 in repairs to the roof, although there are other challenges such as electrical and plumbing work needed as well.

If the city chose to rehab the building there would be ongoing maintenance repairs typically associated with an older structure, Harris added. On the other hand, constructing a brand-new community center on the property would likely cost around $3 million, not counting demolition and design costs, and would come with some warranties.

In presenting his report to the council, Harris said he had been asked his personal opinion on which way to go and he indicated he would favor the new construction. He said there is enough money in the city’s SPLOST account to cover the demolition and start the design process.

“A new structure allows greater flexibility in design components,” said Harris, adding that the creation of a new community center would be a collaborative process involving citizen input from the beginning.

As each council member provided feedback on Harris’ comments, there was consistent support for getting rid of the old building and creating something new.

“What is in that building now will just get older,” said LaKeisha Gantt. “I would prefer we have something that contains what all of our stakeholders want.”

“It’s a new day in Stockbridge,” said Neat Robinson. “Our citizens deserve the best.”

John Blount compared the proposed renovations to “putting a new engine in a 25-year-old car. It will still run but there will be other parts to replace over time.”

Elton Alexander asked about the timetable for getting rid of the current building and starting over. Harris replied that, should the council desire, his staff could start soliciting demolition bids immediately and look at possible design firms while the building is being torn down.

“That could possibly be done by the end of this year,” said Harris. “Then we could start grading next year and either bond the project or wait for the next SPLOST.”

Mayor pro tem Anthony Ford mentioned that the latest report he saw indicated about $500,000 in the city’s SPLOST account. Harris confirmed that number was correct and would probably over the demolition and design costs.

When asked about the timetable for the next SPLOST, Harris said it would likely be voted on in 2019 and collections would begin in 2020.

Alexander said he wanted to make sure the council was committed to moving forward with the new building if the old one was torn down. “We don’t want the lot to be empty for 3-4 years,” he said. “If we are going to tear it down, let’s decide now what we are going to put there.”

Blount pointed out that if the building is demolished it will save the city money immediately. “Even if we just put grass and a bench there, it will keep us from that revolving door of funding for repairs on the old building,” he said.

Harris said that Academy Theatre’s most recent event at the facility was the last one planned there for quite some time, and the organization still has another location near Atlanta. As far as the group being prepared to possibly vacate the building, “those conversations have already started.”

The council did not vote on anything based on Harris’ presentation but indicated by consensus that he move forward, and acceptance of any bids for demolition or design work would require a future council vote.