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Ga. revives idea of closing President Carter visitor center

ATLANTA -- Georgia tourism officials have revived a plan to close a visitor center in former President Jimmy Carter's hometown, while the attraction's supporters are promising a fierce fight to keep it open.

Gov. Nathan Deal's budget proposal for the next fiscal year includes the plan to close the Plains Visitor Center to save about $240,000. Economic officials say closing the center, which is among the least visited in Georgia, will free up money to spend on other initiatives.

"I have no disrespect for the former president and I'm proud he's a citizen," Chris Cummiskey, who heads the Georgia Department of Economic Development, told lawmakers Wednesday at a hearing. "But I believe the state would be better served to get more boots on the ground to create more jobs for Georgia."

But the outpost's supporters, who staved off a similar proposal in 2009, are protesting the move. State Sen. George Hooks, who represents Carter's hometown, cited a law that would prevent the state from shutting down a visitors' center near any president's hometown.

"That needs to be off the table and somebody in your department needs to write that in stone," said Hooks, a Democrat.

"You need to take it off the table and quit wasting ink."

The center, which sits miles from the nearest interstate and resembles a log cabin, is a shrine to Georgia's native son. It sprung up more than three decades ago, long before the National Parks Service opened up sites nearby.

Cummiskey said the Plains center costs Georgia about $2.70 per visitor -- a far higher ratio than some of the state's busier visitor centers. It costs less than a quarter for each person at those centers.

Tourism officials say the Plains outpost received about 52,000 visitors in the last fiscal year. That's compared with the several hundred thousand drivers that visit other centers that sit on heavily trafficked routes along busy highways.