Hole next to Red Clay Theatre may go up for auction

DULUTH — There’s no question the giant hole in the ground next to the Red Clay Theatre is a sight for sore eyes in downtown Duluth. The hole was originally dug to relieve flooding in the basement of the theater.

For months, the city council has discussed on possible uses for the space and even had an architect present plans to them during Monday’s work session. By the end of it, a $1.4-million cost was presented, giving sticker-shock to all the council members.

In response, City Manager Tim Shearer suggested the city put the piece of property up for auction and let a developer spend the money on it.

“We can put conditions on it with a time it needs to be completed by,” Shearer said. “We put in writing what we want them to achieve in terms of our vision.”

It was an idea that was well-received by the city council.

“I feel more comfortable going that route than spending taxpayer dollars,” said councilman Greg Whitlock.

“The only ones that have been shelling out money for this so far is the taxpayers,” said Kelly Kelkenberg. “If it costs one dollar so we don’t have to spend $1.4 million, then I’m all for it.”

Originally, the council was discussing three options for use of that space, including rooftop dining in all three. Option one was a crawl space with a slab on Main Street. Option two was a basement with a slab on Main Street. The third option was a basement with a building on Main Street included.

“We have to move forward with this,” said councilman Billy Jones. We can talk about it for three more months, six more months, one more year, but we’re not moving forward on it. We have to put a mark in the sand and move forward.”

The council also discussed the possibility of filling in the hole or finishing the excavation of the site.

“It’s already almost fully excavated,” he said. “We might as well finish the job. It would be ludicrous to fill that hole back in.”

While the possibility of putting the property up for auction could still take a few more months, the council wants to keep their options open.

During a special-called meeting prior to the work session, the council approved a resolution amending the tax allocation district after it was put through a public hearing.

The plan allows city staff to seek approval from the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and Gwinnett County Board of Education for participation in the city’s tax allocation district.