The City of Albany allowed a businessman to operate the $500,000 taxpayer-owned skateboard park for $1 a year without a lease or liability insurance, public records show.
Assistant City Manager James Taylor told the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority last week that the city padlocked the skateboard park on the Flint River’s east bank last week upon learning that there was neither a lease nor the requisite insurance coverage the park.
Taylor and his boss, City Manager Alfred Lott, refused to answer questions about the snafu, which exposed taxpayers to liability from injuries that occur at the park, which is named Riverskate.
A $1-a-year lease was drafted but never executed, public records show.
Riverskate operator Thomas Hale, who formerly operated the concessions for the South Georgia Wildcats arena football team, did not return the Journal’s telephone call and electronic message Monday or Tuesday. Hale moved last summer to Russellville, Ark., where he operates a another skateboard park.
The city closed the park last week; a sign at the park says it will reopen Jan. 15. Meanwhile, public records show that efforts are under way to get a lease with Hale executed.
Lott did not acknowledge an e-mail asking the following questions:
- Why was the park operational without an executed lease and liability insurance?
- How much liability insurance is the leaseholder required to have?
- How did you find out that there was no executed lease or liability insurance?
- When do you expect the park to reopen?
Through Lott’s non-response to public records requests, the city manager claims that there have been no letters or e-mails sent between the city and Hale, or any reports generated on the topic by his staff. If such records have been generated, the city is violation of state open records regulations that require the public’s business to be conducted in the sunshine.
The recreation facility at College Drive and East Oglethorpe Boulevard was funded with by 1-cent sales tax funds in Dougherty County and touted by Albany Tomorrow, Inc. as an ingredient of downtown redevelopment. Before the facility was built, then-city commissioner Bo Dorough argued that too much money and not enough planning went into Riverskate – and that it wasn’t part of the downtown revitalization master plan.
Former Albany Tomorrow CEO Tommy Chatmon defended the park as filling a small niche, but he also said that the park was the product of elected officials’ political desires rather than good business sense.
Riverskate was originally operated by Kevin Jones, who transferred his business interests to Hale.
Upon opening, the skateboard park was billed as being a regional facility that would draw customers from as far away as North Florida and Southeast Alabama. “Riverskate will complement other downtown events and venues in order to draw revenue, but more importantly to increase the quality of life for the people of Southwest Georgia,” according to Jones’ business plan. “The park will be a great addition in making downtown Albany the prime entertainment destination in the area.”
In return for Jones’ $1 annual rental payment and startup capital of about $10,000, the City was to receive a recreational outlet for its citizens, utility revenue and free maintenance of the grounds and park fixtures, according to public records.