“Lowry Mill was put out for bid and we went through the pre-bid process and found there were five vendors interested in bidding,” Goss told the council in August. “The bid process was suspended to get a little more supporting data and all that has been completed and those same five vendors are still interested in bidding.”
But the dynamics quickly changed.
“The bid opening was held Monday,” Goss said. “We had actually pushed it back to give time to the bidders to get some numbers together to find ways to lower the cost. It was determined that we didn’t have a complete package and that kicks everybody out. When we retrieved the numbers, they were all over the place from $1.9 million to $2.8 million.”
The Lowry Mill preservation project was part of an ambitious plan to preserve Euharlee’s village-like downtown centered around the historic covered bridge and the remains of Lowry Mill, a 19th Century grist mill.
Rebuilding the mill was a key part of a 20-year master plan for Euharlee’s downtown that included restaurants, shops, a visitors center and a museum, all connected by a series of walking trails.
Conceived as a three-phase plan, the environmental and archeological phase and the stabilization of the mill’s foundation were completed several years ago, but Phase 3, the bid process didn’t go so smooth.
“So our only options are to rebid it or not bid it at all,” Thayer said Tuesday. “But if we rebid it, would some of those folks be able to meet the requirements?
“We have roughly $700,000 in our Urban Redevelopment Act bond for this project. The projected cost of this building was to be $1 million at the most, but we are nearly double or triple that. Our only options would be to take another bond or increase the millage rate, but based on how much the millage rate would have to be raised,
I don’t see how we could possibly do that.
Thayer said he found it disappointing because he wanted to see the mill finished, but the cost of the building had to be compared pragmatically with the return on the investment.
“It would be different if it were a new city hall or a hospital, but I think to devote that kind of money to an event place is almost reckless,” he said. “I don’t believe this city is in any position to move forward. I think this project needs to be tabled for an extended period of time.”
Councilman Ron Nesbitt cautioned against throwing in the towel without exhausting all resources and asked if grants had been researched.
City manager James Stephens said he was researching the possibilities.
Councilman Craig Guyton said no other project connects Euharlee’s present with the past like the mill does.
“We already have $700,00 from the 2020 SPLOST set aside,” he said. “The anticipated options were initially set at $700,000 and later $500,000 more was added giving us a total of $1.2 million. By taking money from other projects, we could afford it.”
Thayer noted that the money had been sitting there for about three years and monthly payments were due until the bond was paid off. He questioned the wisdom of letting the money sit there when it could be used for other purposes including road improvements, sidewalks and other necessary projects.
“What is smart about letting that money sit there while we make interest payments as long as money sits there,” he asked. “This is one of those things where you have to balance emotion with practicality, and the fact is, we are losing money.”
After more discussion, the project was tabled and City Manager James Stephens was given 60 days to research significant grants.
“They will have to be very significant,” Thayer said. “Even a 50 percent matching grant won’t do it.”
In other business, council:
The Euharlee City Council will hold a work session on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m. at Euharlee City Hall.