Augusta voters who cast ballots in the July 20 Democratic primary get to weigh in on the future of the former Golf Hall of Fame property, although the straw poll questions are not binding.
A bill signed by the governor June 2 disbanded the hall of fame and put the state-owned property up for auction, months after Mayor Deke Copenhaver floated a proposal to convert the 16 acres into a multiuse entertainment complex and new home for the Augusta GreenJackets.
"Even though the mayor was not going to go to the voters on this, and right now we're told that private money would support it, we know sooner or later they're going to need public funds to build it," said Richmond County Democratic Chairman Lowell Greenbaum.
The local party wrote four straw poll questions to add to the July 20 Democratic primary ballot, for which early voting began Monday.
The first question asks if "there should be a public referendum if public monies are used to enhance private investment in the Golf & Garden properties?"
Results of the poll are not binding, but "we're going to show what the feelings of the Democrats in this city are, in terms of that baseball stadium," Greenbaum said.
About 60 percent of Richmond County's 104,000 registered voters tend to vote Democratic.
Local parties' executive committees have the option to poll voters in the primaries and have done so previously. They don't have to make the questions public, and Greenbaum said he hadn't planned to release them until next week.
The second question asks voters if they "favor spending public monies to build a new stadium replacing the Lake Olmstead baseball stadium."
The stadium would be replaced under Copenhaver's proposal, and a developer associated with GreenJackets owner Cal Ripken already has expressed an interest in buying the golf hall lands to build the entertainment complex.
Commissioner Jerry Brigham, whose commission vote could help approve local funding for the development, questioned whether the "public referendum" referenced in the first question was allowed on the golf hall matter.
The only question local governments can ask voters is to approve a bond issue or sales tax resolution, he said.
While he had no knowledge of the questions and tends to vote Republican, Brigham said he's "not in favor of just building a stadium downtown just to build a stadium."
The poll also asks two other questions, if voters approve using public money to build a performing arts center and if they favor one garbage collection or two.
Brigham said he was interested in the public's opinion on garbage pickup.
As the commission revises Augusta's contract with waste haulers, reducing collection to once a week is an option being considered.
"I don't have any idea what most people would think of that," Brigham said.
While Administrator Fred Russell said he valued any information gained from the straw poll, the questions "carry no weight with anything, other than a public opinion."
"It's what a portion of our community thinks," he said.