Macon vs. Warner Robins: A Battle of Museums vs. a Water Park

(Edit October 9, 2014) Macon was down but not out. It stood up on the count of 9 and gave Warner Robbins a haymaker punch. Today it was just announced the developer for that Water Park in Warner Robins has instead chosen Lake Tobesofkee in Macon. We have a new winner folks and expect a new article soon!)

Today WMAZ reported that a new water Park is scheduled to open in Warner Robins in 2016. The report states it will be around 25 acres large an adjacent to the Rigby’s entertainment complex. The closest water park is around 126 miles away. I doubt it will be anything close to the scale nor contain the variety of attractions as White Water owned by six Flags in Marietta but it still sounds to be a rather impressive and ambitious project for middle Georgia. Given that both Macon and Warner Robins are intersected by I-75 and there really is not any city of size between Atlanta and Valdosta except for Macon and Warner Robins, who do you think typical tourists on their way to or from Florida and people within a two hour drive might choose to visit? The city with a water park and entertainment complex? Or the city  with a lot of vacant museums no one has heard of? But the bigger question is what about the actual people that live in the middle Georgia area of around 25 or so counties that can all reach this area within around a 1 hour drive or less. This would include an area as far east as Dublin and as far west as Columbus and south to Albany. Where do you think they will likely choose to spend their cash and also choose to return for repeat visits? Hint in case you need it spelled out for you, it isn’t Macon. If you are from Columbus, Dublin, Forsyth, Fort Valley, Albany, or Twiggs county and you have children you will likely be buying a season pass to the water park and not to any museum. If you are an adult who simply enjoys having fun in the sun and have no children you will still go to the water park and not the museum.  A Few Key Statistics From the U.S. Census Bureau Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 2.01.59 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 2.02.43 PM   In the

In the year 2000 Bibb county had a population of 153,887 and in 2013 it had 154,721. In the year 2000 Houston county had a population of 110,765 and in the year 2013 it had 147,658. If our counties were compared to consumer electronic products I think it is pretty clear which county is the iPod and which is the Zune. If you are asking what the hell is a Zune….exactly my point. Warner Robins seems to have a team along the lines of Steve Jobs and Jonathon Ive with a vision and a plan. Macon on the other hand seems to be lead by people along the lines of Steve Ballmer talking about Miracles that cost us $51million with nothing to show for it. If you think simply because Dallemand has fled to Haiti the problem is solved, think again! with the Promise neighborhood fiasco and now the ominous  One Macon project led by Romain’s old pal Cliffard Whitby et al, these people  are not quite done taking millions from that  taxpayer cookie jar just quite yet.

 

Bibb’s population was largely stagnant over that 13 year period even as Georgia’s population in total  increased by many millions. Houston county was part of that growth with an additional 36,893 people as were most other cities like Columbus, Augusta, Athens, and Savannah that all experienced significant growth. (And let’s remember that was the 2013 estimate.) I would not be surprised in the least to learn that they have now overtaken Bibb given our stagnation and have surpassed Bibb in population by now.

Museums vs. Water Parks

You didn’t come to this article for a census lecture though, lets’ get to our main event. In one corner we have Museum City. We have two Tubman museums, though I am not sure which one is open and which has closed. Is the big yellow building open yet? Who knows… We have a sports and a music museum, and again I think one is open and one is closed but can’t be sure. I believe Mercer bought the Music museum so at least it will get some use.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I am not a big proponent of those ones listed above. It is not because I have anything against sports, music, or Harriet Tubman… but rather I think they are expensive boondoggles destined to fail simply because they are side attractions not main attractions. If Macon had anchor attractions like a water park, amusement park, or something of that caliber to get people to stay for a day or two then I could easily see them also visiting museums as well while they are here.  The failure of the Music museum will not be the last. The question in front of us is how many more millions of our tax dollars will be flushed down the toilet to keep the Tubman and Sports museum afloat until they inevitably fail as well.

Unless you have something along the lines of the Louvre, MoMa, or even the very impressive High Museum not very far from Macon, people will not visit Macon for our museums. Repeat after me, Macon has no anchor attractions to bring tourists here to support that many museums that are niche museums.

 I purposefully left out what I consider to be our most successful museums. People do travel from far and wide to visit the wonderful Allman Brothers museum AKA The Big House. If you have not been yet, then you really need to check it out because it is an awesome museum and a great example of one that is largely self-sustaining and not a drain to taxpayers. It also knows what it is and what it isn’t and caters to those people very well.  The Sidney Lanier Cottage , the Hay House, the Cannononball House, Rosehill Cemetery, Ocmulgee National Park, and last but certainly not least the Macon Museum of Arts and Sciences are also great examples of outstanding places to visit. But what do the Allman brothers museum and Sidney Lanier cottage have in common that Harriet Tubman museum does not have? They have a connection to Macon and the Tubman museum doesn’t.

Harriet Tubman was born in Maryland and died in New York state. She never visited Macon or even the state of Georgia once in her entire lifetime. As impressive a lady as she was with her underground railroad, she simply does not have the same name recognition as a museum dedicated to the likes of other notable people of that era like Lincoln, Grant, Lee, or Frederick Douglas. Because Macon lacks any historical connection to Harriet Tubman and also because she simply is not as famous as other notable historical characters  from the Civil War era, the Tubman museum will never be able to support itself with enough visitors.

Had they instead built a Civil War museum with a large section devoted to Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, exhibits about the horrors of slavery along with other notable Civil War information about battles and the way people lived,  then perhaps it might have seen more foot traffic and interest instead of being mostly empty as it is now.

Imagine if you are driving in your car up I-75 on your way back home to Michigan but you are exhausted. You pull over and get a room. You might go out to dinner and possibly walk around downtown. During dinner you pull out your iPhone and open your Yelp or tripadvisor app for things to do while in town. A Civil War museum might get your interest because it covers such a vast array of people and topics including Harriet Tubman. But a Harriet Tubman museum gives the idea it will be limited to one person and theme and quite frankly sounds boring and unappealing to the vast majority of tourists.

What Could Have Been

Instead of having a separate Sports, Music, Tubman, and Museum of Arts and Science buildings…Why didn’t the geniuses in charge of all these boondoggles and museums ever for a second consider the possibility of creating one single museum complex with sections dedicated to all of those various themes? Harriet Tubman could have a  large section or perhaps an entire floor dedicated to her. The same goes for all the sports and music exhibits. A brand new art gallery along with science exhibits, perhaps an IMAX theater as well to show those wonderful types of films one sees at other museums like the Smithsonian shows. Move the Museum of Arts and sciences over as well with all their interesting collection of objects. A museum that could have exciting new exhibits to keep people coming back again and again.

Now that type of museum is something I would patronize on a regular basic because it would have such a wide diversity of things to see and do while there.  I would likely see and learn something new every visit. From civil war exhibits, to native American artifacts, paintings, sculptures, dinosaur fossils, moon rocks, sports and music areas, an IMAX theater with new movies every month, perhaps also a venue for concerts, speakers, banquets. An entertainment section specifically made for young children as many museums now include.

I think the addition of an upscale type of food court or dining complex with a few private restaurants adjoining this museum complex would also be an excellent addition. Don’t picture fast food type of places, but rather bistros with outdoor seating.  Think Lemon Grass and The Rookery for example. That type of museum complex  is actually something that would be an anchor attraction that could drive tourism to Macon as opposed to the largely vacant side attractions the taxpayers are currently stuck with now and will be paying for years to come. Not to mention locals and school children would have an amazing educational and cultural venue. It would also likely gain national attention. Why are our leaders so incapable of thinking of these types of ideas that seem so obvious?

Certain local leaders have attacked anyone that has spoken up against the museums in the latest Bibb county budget talks as being against the children, against culture, and even as racist.  Nothing could be further from the truth. I love museums. My memory of viewing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and the all the wonderful painting by Goya in the Prado left an indelible mark on me that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I truly understand the value of museums and of fostering an appreciation of history and art and culture and science.

All of those individual museums we now have in Macon are far too weak to survive on their own, but a Macon Museum of Art, History, and Sciences incorporating all of those themes along with an IMAX, new exhibits monthly, and restaurants  would likely have a far greater chance of thriving. Even if my imagined mega museum complex were to ever get built,  Macon has much more to do to ensure any hope of success. This would include better safety downtown with a Koban ( police box on site), more free parking that is accessible, and more anchor attractions to attracts tourists.

No surprise that these same former Romain Dallemand supporters seem to be the same ones screaming the loudest for more financial support to the Tubman museum even as they themselves fail to visit the actual museum to actually support it in any significant numbers. They scream for more money but do no patronize the museums themselves. These same people simply recycled the same arguments when vigilant citizens tried to warn our blind, deaf, and dumb Board of Education while Dallemand was busy working his miracles that turned into nightmares to the tune of $52 million in missing funds. Wanda West maintains she didn’t drop the ball because she didn’t know there was a ball in the air to drop. Never mind that the rest of Macon was screaming and shouting as loudly as they could that it was happening (while it was happening) and she along with the other members of the now infamous BOE5 ignored those warnings not out of ignorance but out of complicity, incompetence, hubris, and a few other choice words I will leave off.

We also have our local editorial page editor that was such a huge fan of Dallemand for a very long time even as it became abundantly clear that the rat infested SS Dallemand ship was sinking. He is now fully in support of more funding to these museums.  No surprise given his wife had a cushy job at the Welcome Center. He used to have some degree of credibility and integrity that I fear we shall never see again.

(For more on that topic I suggest you click these two links and read more. It is a real eye opener. Macon’s nightmare, a timeline of privilege and deceit. Another very useful local site for news you won’t find on local media is the excellent WeArePolitics site.  )

 

In the Other Corner we have a 25 acre water park

As I mentioned above it is reported that it will open in 2016, will cover around 25 acres, and also be next to the Rigby’s entertainment complex which is open year round.  A water park would have been perfect for Macon. In fact putting it alongside the Ocmulgee river perhaps near Central City Park adjoining the River walk Park if that land is available would have been an amazing boost to downtown Macon. The huge tract of vacant land right off the Hartley Bridge I-75 exit across from McDonald’s would also have been a good choice. There is a huge area of undeveloped land between that exit and the Bloomfield/Rocky Creek Rd area which would be perfect for a large water park or indeed any type of large entertainment park. Not to mention Lake Tobesofkee or adjacent to the Ocmulgee River.

Has Mayor Reichert never visited another successful River Walk Development in other cities?

Unlike Warner Robins Macon has a river that runs right through downtown which could be a huge advantage if it were properly developed. Our mayor suggested putting a hotel on Riverside. In fact all the ideas for our river development are simply beyond lame. Call me crazy but wouldn’t it make more sense to have a promenade along the banks of the river with restaurants, bars, small shops, perhaps also entertainment as opposed to just  a hotel and parking?

Has he never visited a city with a successful River Walk? One only need visit Savannah, Columbus, or Augusta to see how they have successfully made their river walk areas very popular destinations for locals and tourists. This the key, it must appeal to locals since Macon will never be a huge tourists mecca with the competition from Atlanta to the north, Savannah to the East, Florida and now apparently Warner Robins with a water park and entertainment complex to the south.

 

A few days ago I also wrote an article about the citizens of Zebulon Rd. and their fight against Blackwater over development. Make sure to please read this article as well and leave your comments and feedback. This is an ongoing series as it is part of a big puzzle I am slowly trying to piece together on the problems facing Bibb county. 

Final Thoughts

So Warner Robins you won this round and indeed every round for the last decade or so as you continue to grow and get new entertainment venues people actually want to visit as opposed to boondoggle projects that will surely close sooner rather than later. But don’t get too cocky as your economy is largely reliant on RAFB. Should that base ever close it would be disastrous to all of middle Georgia but Warner Robins in particular would be devastated if not decimated. I would also offer a suggestion to try and develop a part of town that is less “strip mally”. When you drive down Watson or Russell Pkwy all you see are chain restaurants, fast food, and strip malls, and electric and telephone lines and wires. I realize Warner Robins is a very new town,  but so are many other cities in America that have managed to create an attractive downtown space with promenades and plaza that are more pedestrian friendly and invite people to congregate and enjoy a good meal and perhaps listen to live music after. These other new cities created largely after World War II have managed to have strict building codes to maintain some charm and identifiable town centers and a character.

If you are driving down the streets, there really is very little to differentiate Warner Robins from hundreds of other cities with mile after mile of ugly strip malls. You need to have a P&Z board that cordons off a section that can be your downtown where people can get out and walk, have a meal, and feel like they are in an actual city and not simply in a city that lacks any defining characteristic besides an air force base.

As a Maconite you know I had to get at least one dig in on you even as you knocked us out with your water park and population growth. Macon is just as bad along Pio Nono, Eisenhower, most of Vineville. Gray Highway as well, but we do have some potential downtown.  I am also not forgetting that Warner Robins has probably the best and most interesting museum in all of middle Georgia. I think the Museum of Aviation is without question the museum with the most wide appeal.

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