Published on 07/26/02

Tifton RDC Breaks Ground on Expansion

Tifton, Ga. -- The groundbreaking for a planned 83,000-square- foot expansion to the University of Georgia’s Rural Development Center took place here July 24. The expansion promises to bring better educational opportunities and economic stimulus to the Tifton area and south Georgia.

The $9.8-million expansion will be an addition to the current UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center here. The expansion is slated to open for business in January 2004. Construction will start in 30 days.

The expansion will include:

* A 3,000-seat auditorium with multi-purpose space for exhibits.

* A greatly expanded conference center, anchored by a ballroom with capacity for 1,000-person seated dinner. (The current center can feed only 70 people in one room.) This can also be divided into four smaller conference spaces.

* A catering kitchen and other associated conference support spaces.

The cost of the new expansion will be divided between the University System of Georgia and Tift County. A Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum passed in the mid-1990s provided $4.9 million for the project.

“This was done in the spirit of partnership and cooperation,” said Michael F. Adams, UGA president, who praised the efforts of the local delegation to the General Assembly.

“This facility will help us raise to the next level the economic prosperity of this state,” Adams said.

The current UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center contributes about $4 million annually to the local economy, said Fred Terasa, TCCC coordinator. It is estimated that just six 350- person conferences at the new center would contribute an additional $4 million to the local economy.

“We must market and sell conferences well in advance of the early-2004 opening to achieve our fiscal goals,” Terasa said.

“This gives us a great opportunity to partner with the local community for economic development and have a huge impact on the community with conferencing,” said David Bridges, assistant dean for the Tifton campus of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “We hope Tifton becomes the conference center for south Georgia.”

This expansion fulfills the original plan set forth for the RDC 23 years ago.

“From a university perspective, this gives us a world-class facility to do our outreach, instruction and research for the future,” Bridges said.

One of the strongest economic engines for Georgia is research, especially when that research can be applied to develop new opportunities and nurture new companies and jobs for the state, Adams said.

And the location of this expansion is certainly a step in the right direction to keep and produce new economic opportunity for south Georgia, said John Hunt, University System of Georgia regent and Tift-area businessman.

“We need help in the economic development in Georgia,” Hunt said. “And we want to see economic growth.”

One of the most important missions of the UGA CAES is “to extend our university to the people of this state. This facility will certainly help us discharge that information,” said Gale Buchanan, CAES dean and director.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.