CANTON — Disagreement about what to do with the city’s portable outdoor stage caused a lengthy debate to take the spotlight at Thursday’s Canton City Council meeting.
After weeks of discussion about the issue, the Canton City Council still did not come to an agreement on the ultimate fate of the city’s portable outdoor stage once an amphitheater is constructed at the city’s new park.
For almost 30 minutes during its meeting Thursday night, the council discussed potential changes to the policy of who can use the taxpayer-funded stage, and for how much, if any, rental fee. But even that long, back-and-forth talk left unanswered questions.
The council voted unanimously — with Councilman Bill Bryan absent — after the discussion to set a $750 rental fee for renters who aren’t using the stage for a city of Canton purpose or for an event put on by one of the city’s sponsored organizations, such as the Downtown Development Authority. The council also voted to push the rest of the discussion on the remaining loose ends in the policy to its next work session.
Councilman Bob Rush brought the discussion on the piece of city-owned equipment before the council for discussion Thursday, as he has in several recent meetings.
Rush has argued the aging stage is now in a state of disrepair and is not only a liability, but is also going to cost money to keep in working order.
“The stage is a declining asset,” he said Thursday night. “We were told it needs some major repairs. We don’t have the money.”
To get the money, Rush suggested charging even city-sponsored organizations like Main Street for use of the stage but then having them budget for the fee so it would, in effect, be reimbursed.
“We need to build a fund to repair this thing,” Rush said. “We don’t do that. Right now, we just take it out of general funds, as needed.”
Councilman Hooky Huffman agreed the city needs a way to fund repairs.
“We all know that stage is being used as good as probably any asset this city has got,” he said during the meeting. “Can we start charging a little bit to offset some of the costs? We don’t have to offset the whole cost. If our citizens are using it that much we just need to make a budget adjustment. Let’s charge some for it; let’s keep it working.”
Councilman Jack Goodwin said he wasn’t sure how to get the money to keep the stage in working order.
“Yes, we need to keep the stage (repaired),” Goodwin said. “It’s not safe to haul it back and forth, and it is declining and we’ve got to build it back up. How do you balance all that? I really don’t know. We certainly need to do something.”
But Councilman Glen Cummins said there was little to be done Thursday night.
“The urgency to do anything on this policy is zilch,” Cummins said.
Comparing the long talk to whipping on an old horse, Councilman John Beresford agreed.
“As Mr. Cummins pointed out, it’s not a crisis,” he said.
On top of the questions about how to charge for use of the stage and keeping it operational, Rush said he isn’t so sure the piece is necessary for the city to have at all.
“I guess people say it’s an asset,” Rush said. “I don’t think the city should be in the entertainment business.”
The potential policy changes brought to the council Thursday night would have resulted in the stage being dismantled or sold once construction was complete on the recently approved amphitheater coming to Etowah River Park.
Canton Tourism board member Bill Magruder told the council that’s a bad idea.
“The idea of eliminating the portable stage is as asinine as the spending of the $200,000-plus for the amphitheater,” Magruder said of the proposed facility, which the council approved for $291,000.
Magruder said the city-owned stage is regularly used for functions in downtown Canton like First Friday, the farmers market and Taste of Canton. Moving those events to Etowah River Park would be a big problem, he said.
“That’s just unbelievable that you’d want to try and do such damage,” Magruder said. “Is it your idea to justify the cost of the amphitheater by having these events moved there?”
Huffman also said the city needs to keep the stage.
“Just because we’ve got a little bit of a problem, just to cut it off?,” Huffman said. “No way. It’s too good of an asset.”
Canton resident TJ Cochran agrees.
“Having that asset is a great point for the city, and it’s definitely something I think we should hang onto and continue to utilize,” Cochran told the council Thursday night.
Cochran also said the idea of taking events which normally use the stage and moving them to Etowah River Park was flawed.
“That would be like saying ‘We only need one restaurant in downtown Canton,’” he said. “They all serve a different purpose.”