UPDATE: Georgia taxpayers still owe $13 million for construction of Go Fish

We told you yesterday that on the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Go Fish Education Center in Perry, the facility was having trouble attracting visitors.

Credit: James Salzer

Credit: James Salzer

One lawmaker even suggested the center be closed since it was generating only about 11 cents in revenue for every dollar that had been spent operating it.

Late Tuesday the governor's Office of Planning and Budget sent the Atlanta Journal-Constitution an accounting of how much the state still owes on Go Fish, and how long the state will be paying off ex-Gov. Sonny Perdue's dream of making Georgia a bass-fishing tourism mecca.

Payments on the Go Fish bonds, approved by Perdue and the General Assembly in 2007, runs through December 2027. Most years the payments will be around $1 million a year. In total, the state still owes about $13 million on the bonds sold to build the Go Fish Center. Go Fish Georgia Bond

The Go Fish Education Center was the centerpiece of Perdue’s vision.

Coming off the political high of easily winning re-election and fairly flush with revenue after some recession-starved years, Perdue proposed the $30 million Go Fish program in January 2007 as a way to promote fishing tourism and attract major bass tournaments. Lawmakers — some of whom would benefit by seeing new large-scale boat ramps with extra parking and piers in their districts — readily approved Perdue’s plan.

Just after Christmas that year, before the General Assembly came back into town for the 2008 session, Perdue announced that the center would be built in his home county, Houston, on land the state owned next to the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter.

Credit: James Salzer

Credit: James Salzer

Some lawmakers ridiculed the idea of building the facility at all, let alone in a small town along a relatively rural stretch of I-75. Others called it political pork, particularly after a panel led by the governor agreed to funnel other bond money into the project just before Perdue left office.

Staffers note that the center, with an aquarium, fish hatchery, exhibits and a fish pond, is popular with schoolchildren and that it was never designed to be a for-profit facility.

They hope new marketing efforts will attract more visitors.

But Department of Natural Resources figures show only 21,101 people visited the Perry facility in fiscal 2015, which ended June 30.  That was down from two previous years.

And 21,000 is nowhere near what Perdue and backers envisioned it would be in 2007, when the governor announced the center would be built in his home county and officials projected that 200,000 a year would visit. They had scaled back the estimate to 100,000 by the time the center opened in October 2010.