It wasn’t without a spirited discussion, but Enterprise will be getting a bigger, better movie theater after the City Council approved a loan transaction to Clark Theaters to help it complete its expansion at Tuesday night’s meeting.
In a 4-1 vote, the council agreed to make two loans totaling $925,000 to Clark at the same interest rate at which the city borrows money. The first loan is for $800,000 and will be distributed to Clark after the expansion project is completed. Clark will begin repayment one month after the funds are distributed, and the term is for 15 years in monthly payments.
The second loan is for $125,000, also to be distributed to Clark after the project is completed. No cash payments will be due on that loan for two years, but after that, it will be amortized over a 13-year period and repaid in monthly payments. Its amount will be reduced by the city’s portion of sales taxes paid by patrons of Clark.
Two citizens came forward to voice opposition to the project. David Rove was concerned about the city loaning money to a private entity.
“If I own a business and walk in and ask you for a million bucks, are you going to give it to me?” Rove asked. “This is everybody’s money. … Why don’t go about a vote and see if the people want you to spend their money?”
Bruce Miller said there are numerous expenses facing the city. He noted the doubling of garbage pickup, along with the reduction of recycling. He pointed out Main Street is in need of resurfacing, that more police are needed here.
“I don’t understand why we’re loaning a million dollars to a private business when we’ve got expenses to take care of in the city of Enterprise,” Miller told the council.
Robbin Thompson, Wiregrass Region President of River Bank & Trust, spoke on behalf of the project. He likened the $925,000 more as economic development incentive than a loan to a private citizen or business. He said its common to provide incentives to attract business into the area.
“Here we have a home-grown industry with an investment of $12-13 million with 40 employees plus added employees after the expansion,” Thompson said.
Council member Turner Townsend explained it wasn’t a mutually exclusive transaction — that the city wasn’t cutting recycling services so that it could provide a loan.
“We need growth in our retail business base — of which movie theatergoers are a part,” Townsend said. “The city’s only going to be servicing this debt in the event the project fails. So the question is, do we think the project has merits? If not, do we open up the city’s coffers as a handout. That’s not what this is.”
Townsend said the city was not coming out of pocket for the project.
“It’s conduit financing. We’re simply a conduit the project is using to secure the financing,” Townsend said. “There’s financing in place to get the project built. The city’s is the last money in. Again, that’s not coming out of our general fund. … We’re the conduit to which the project is getting the last $925,000.”
Council member Al Miller was the lone dissenting vote — and he said at the outset he was enthused and supported the project.
“But my concern, the city, from the document, we’re getting a third mortgage on the loan,” Al Miller said. “The issue I’ve got is us taking the place of a loaning institution and loaning taxpayer’s money for a third mortgage. I tried to learn a little bit about this. If you’re the third mortgage you’re the last in line if anything’s left.”
Mack Clark Jr. said he was “very well pleased,” to earn the council’s approval for the loans. He is excited about the project, which represents about a $13 million investment.
“We’re extremely proud of what we do now. We bring a lot of people from around the Wiregrass. In our old location, we had people going to Dothan. Now, we’ve got Dothan folks coming to Enterprise,” Clark said after the meeting.
Currently, the cinemas have 10 screens.
“We’re adding two big auditoriums. The total seating capacity of the two will be just under 500 seats,” Clark said. “All the seats are electric recliners, like we have now. We’re adding more restrooms, more parking. The screens will be huge. One auditorium’s screen is 74-foot by 42-foot. The other one is close to that.”
He added that the latest Dolby sound system will be added. Laser projection will be used.
“We’re hoping it attracts a lot more people,” Clark said. “We have people who come regularly from near Panama City. We have people coming from all over the Wiregrass.”
In other business, the Council unanimously:
(bullet) Introduced a recommendation from the Enterprisse Planning Commission to approve a request by Michael S. Brooks to rezone property from R-85 (residential district) to B-3 (highway commercial district) at 1408 E. Park Ave. A public hearing will be held at the regular meeting scheduled for Feb. 4.
(bullet) Adopted the “Severe Weather Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday” from Friday Feb. 21 to midnight on Sunday, Feb. 23. Covered items will include things like batteries, tarps, plywood and radios with a sales price of $60 or less.
(bullet) Approved an additional services addendum for Barge Design Solutions, Inc., for $8250. The addendum provides for an additional 22 miles of streets as part of the city’s Road Assessment Project.
(bullet) Approved the rezoning of property owned by Worthington Millwork, LLC from M-1 (light industry district) to M-3 (general industry district) located at 114 South Conner Street.
(bullet) Approved the rezoning of property owned by Angelia R. Stokes from B-2 (Downtown Business District) and R-75-S (Residential District) to R-75-M (Residential District) located at 205 East Adams Street.
(bullet) Approved accounts payable for December 2019 for $727,430.48 as follows: $552,311.04 for the City of Enterprise and $175,119.44 for the Water Works Board.
(bullet) Approved contract billings to S.A. Graham Co., Inc., for $93,607.06 for the airport apron rehab; to Barge Design Solutions, Inc., for $10,299.11 for the airport apron rehab; and another to Barge for $73,373.20 for the airport terminal building.
(bullet) At the meeting’s end, Mayor Bill Cooper recognized three scouts in the audience. He also listed dates (Jan. 13-24) for upcoming baseball and softball signups, as well as mention to the parks and rec basketball season is underway at three gyms in the city.
(bullet) At the council’s work session, Council President Perry Vickers again congratulated the city on landing the VA home project. He thanked the work of Wiregrass Economic Development Corporation executive director Jonathan Tullos and shared an impressive list of accomplishments by the WEDC. Since December of 2017, that entity has been directly involved in projects that total $305 million and that will add more than 1,200 jobs to Coffee County.