RSA in discussions with Shoals leaders to invest attraction money into conference center

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FLORENCE, Ala. (WHNT) – More than ten years ago, the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) invested millions of dollars into the Shoals with a Marriott hotel and Robert Trent Jones golf course.

But one project which has yet to break ground is a community sponsored attraction at Veterans Park in Florence to complete the deal.

Tennis courts and a few older ball fields make up the majority of land use in the park. RSA agreed to build the hotel, golf course, and take over a struggling conference center if the Shoals would build an attraction in the park.

As part of the initial investment, a two-cent gasoline tax was approved by the voters and $2 million was set aside for the park.

“Over the years, there have been many things talked about. A water theme park. A botanical garden was one of them I remember talking about. Bass Pro Shop has been one,” Florence Mayor Mickey Haddock explained.

But the problem has always come back to the owner of the land. TVA leases the property to Florence for recreational use only, which has put a damper on commercial development.

Mayor Haddock said they have been approached by RSA to consider investing the $2 million into the conference center and foregoing the attraction.

“We need to at least listen if Dr. Bronner is asking for money to upgrade his sound systems, projection systems, adding some new things that would attract visitors,” Haddock stated.

The mayor has not given up hope in finding a project for Veterans Park, but it has been more than 10 years since the money was set aside.

Haddock said the two-cent gasoline tax for the RSA project is expected to be paid off by 2020 and will roll off the pumps.

Local government leaders say they are open to hearing more about the new proposal of investing the money.