By David Palmer
The Cullman Times
The Bass Fishing Hall of Fame’s search for a permanent home is getting an official pitch from Cullman area officials.
A letter of support from the City of Cullman, Good Hope and Cullman County have been approved to send to the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, which is expected to announce its selection at its convention in February in Tulsa, Okla.
An important foundation in the local attempt to secure the project came in the form of a letter from Alabama highway director John Cooper concerning the long-proposed County Road 222 interchange off Interstate 65.
Cooper, after meeting with state Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, has agreed to keep the local matching share of the interchange cost at $2 million.
“There had been some flipping and flopping concerning the amount of the local match, but this is what we were told originally and Mr. Cooper has clarified that,” Bussman said. “I’m excited about this project and what it can do for our area. This is also something that was promised to Topre several years ago and it needs to be honored.”
Bass Fishing Hall of Fame’s board of directors visited Cullman in September 2012 and met with dozens of local officials and business leaders to discuss the proposed permanent home for the organization. The proposal would include a hall of fame building with an aquarium, a fishing camp on the scale of Huntsville’s Space Camp, which would include involvement by Auburn University, and a new civic center attached to the building.
The land that has caught Bass Hall of Fame officials’ attention is the city’s recently acquired Burrow property, which rests along CR 222.
Board president Sammy Lee said in an interview with The Times last year that Cullman meets the three criteria of the Bass Hall of Fame.
“First, we want to be part of a community that wants us and understands the value of bass fishing. Cullman understands that,” Lee said. “Second, we want to be on or near a major thoroughfare, and here you have Interstate 65. Third, we are looking for property that has ponds that can be used for demonstrations and teaching, and that gives us room to host major events and grow.”
Cullman Mayor Max Townson said the CR 222 commitment by the state is important in moving forward with the support for the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame.
“When it comes to highway money, everything is contingent on weather and getting the available funds in place,” Townson said. “Senator Bussman did an excellent job with this and I want to thank him. This was promised to Topre when they came here and there are safety issues involved in getting this project done. And of course it will open growth for the entire county, particularly for Good Hope which has so much property in the area.”
Townson also noted that the letter going forth from local officials amounts to a verbal proposal. No legally binding commitment is contained in the proposal.
“Our idea is that we would build the hall of fame and attach a civic center to it. The hall of fame board would be responsible for the features inside at a cost of around $3 million to $5 million. We would lease the building and property back to them. We are not going to sell the property. We want it to remain ours,” Townson said.
But the plans are all dependent on what the hall of fame board decides, once its members review the local proposal. Guntersville has also been making a pitch for the hall of fame, but several local officials believe Interstate 65 and the state’s commitment concerning the CR 222 interchange could make the difference for Cullman County.
Bussman said the state would seek its share of the funding through the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP), which allows matching federal grants. The federal money would cover 80 percent of the cost and leave the remaining to the local commitment.
“I think the 222 project will be a benefit to the entire county,” said Good Hope Mayor Corey Harbison. “There is great potential for retail development in that area and the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame would draw new money to the area. Senator Bussman worked hard on this with the state.”
Harbison said the congestion at Good Hope’s 304 exit raises safety concerns, but the addition of the 222 interchange would relieve some of the traffic pressures. He also said it would benefit the entire industrial park in the area because of the more convenient access to the interstate.
County commission chairman Kenneth Walker said the county’s governing body is preparing to approve the proposal on CR 222.
“We’re waiting on the official contract at this time,” Walker said. “The state is keeping the local commitment at $2 million, and that’s important in making the project possible. At one time it was looking too expensive to move forward with, but this changes everything for the better. I also believe the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame has great potential for our area. With the fishing camp they are proposing, I think we can see a tremendous increase in visitors to the area.”
Lee, during the hall of fame board’s visit to Cullman, said everyone involved from his organization was impressed with what the local area had to offer. He placed Cullman County, at that time, as the leader for the project.
He also said that establishing the hall of fame in Cullman County would bring the annual induction banquet to the area.
David Palmer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 213.