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Council: No financial info, no Bible Park

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By CONNIE ESH The Wilson Post

“No financial statements, no Bible Park!” was the message from the Lebanon City Council in a surprise move Tuesday night.

The council voted unanimously to rescind all previous ordinances involving the proposed Bible Park, unless the park promoters provide the council with financial statements and a plan to prevent the kind of failure that happened to Hard Rock Park in South Carolina.

However Robert Wyatt, Bible Park USA developer, said he didn’t understand what the problem was in a statement after the meeting.

“It is puzzling that the Lebanon City Council, during a national economic crisis in which layoffs are a daily announcement and tax revenues are hard to find, would fail to support an international tourism development that will attract tourists who will spend their money in Wilson County restaurants, hotels and businesses, leaving behind millions in tax revenues annually, before they go back home,” he said. “We have operated in good faith with the Lebanon City Council, and we have not been contacted by anyone on the Council with a request for additional information at any time in the last weeks or months.”

After several comments opposing the park during the communication from citizens, Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler proposed a suspension of rules so he could offer an ordinance to stop action on the park until the information is provided.

After he said “I just feel like the city and the council have been misled,” and pointing out that he and other members of the council have asked repeatedly for financial information about the park promoters, Buhler moved to pass the ordinance.

The ordinance says in part that there are many unanswered questions about the Hard Rock Park in South Carolina.

Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer pointed out that park had been named by the promoters as the example of what to expect here from the Bible Park, since the same people were promoting both parks.

“Hard Rock Park was their star attraction,” he said, adding that park has now gone bankrupt. “Its bankruptcy has been converted to a Chapter 7 and the $400 million park was sold for $25 million. Now there are creditors all over South Carolina left hanging.”

The new ordinance would rescind two previous ordinances and a resolution until further action by the council.

Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath pointed out that this does not prevent the Bible Park promoters from coming back with the requested information.

And Farmer added that if the information and assurance that the adverse impact which occurred in Myrtle Beach won’t happen here is provided before the next council meeting, the ordinance need not be passed at all.

Ward 5 Councilor Haywood Barry said while under normal circumstances he didn’t like “drop-in ordinances,” he would support this one since it seemed to be an urgent matter.

He added that he, too, had asked for more information. “I don’t feel protected by the ID Board, and I don’t want to be a rubber stamp council,” he said. Barry was referring to the Industrial Development Board of Wilson County which must approve the Bible Park, also.

Wyatt responded, “As is required by all developments that come to Wilson County, the Park’s development team will provide a complete and detailed financial plan to the Industrial Development Board as soon as we get the legislative approval to develop that plan. We started there with a unanimous vote of approval, and we want to end there with our financial plan as soon as possible, if we can be allowed to do so by the local legislative bodies.”

Mayor Phillip Craighead pointed out that his office was just down the hall and said he thought Buhler should have told him about his plans in advance.

“I don’t like the secrecy,” he said. “It should have been made public.”

But Buhler said he and others had asked repeatedly for this information and that his concerns were no secret.

The council then voted unanimously to pass the ordinance on first reading.

In other action, council:• passed on second reading an ordinance allowing signs on businesses facing the interstate,• deferred a resolution to advertise and hire a Water Treatment Plant Operator,• approved on second reading a fund transfer to repair the roof at the Water Treatment Plant,• approved on first reading an ordinance amending the square footage fee in lieu of sidewalks to $5 per foot,• approved the first reading of an ordinance to amend the Ethics Code so citizens can generate an ethics complaint and• approved the first reading of an ordinance authorizing $3.56 million in changes to the 2007-2008 budget.

Staff Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@wilsonpost.com.

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