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Downtown Statesboro seeks leadership

Authority expects to make job offer for new director

            Members of the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority Board hope to make a decision Wednesday on hiring a new director during their next board meeting.

            Barry Turner, who heads the search committee to find a replacement for Stephanie Howell, said they are in the process of interviewing the four finalists for the job and said there were some well qualified candidates.

            The new executive director will oversee both the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority as well as Main Street Statesboro. While some larger cities have two separate positions for each of those areas, Statesboro combines the two into one position.

            Whoever the new director is will step into a downtown that has undergone a revitalization over the past few years. Several new businesses have opened their doors and a comprehensive streetscape program is in the works that will make the downtown area more pedestrian-friendly. And, of course, there is the David H. Averitt Center for the Arts which has been the centerpiece of the revitalization effort.

            Turner said the main responsibility of the DSDA director is to promote downtown Statesboro through various methods to attract customers and business.

            One event that has been somewhat successful in drawing customers downtown is the annual First Friday event, held in conjunction with the Arts Center. As its name implies, the first Friday of each month businesses are encouraged to stay open later as events are planned to draw people to downtown.

            However, some business owners would like to see the event become more of a drawing card for the center of town.

            Brent Hulsey, owner of French Quarter Cafe, said it was "hit and miss" when it came to seeing any increase in business on First Fridays.

            Gregg Todd, who owns Statesboro Brews, said he sees little, if any, impact from First Friday's, but he still supports the idea in the hopes that it becomes an event each month.

            Also, the director will be responsible for identifying properties that are being underutilized or not used at all and work to bring in a business to that location.

            The position is funded primarily though revenue generated by Statesboro's hotel/motel tax, but the director doesn't answer to the city council or city staff.

            "Even though it's funded by the city, the director answers to the Board of Directors," Turner said.

            Although the director doesn't answer to the city, he or she will need to work closely with city officials, especially as construction begins on the first phase of the streetscape project, which will widen the sidewalks and make other aesthetic improvements from the Main Street intersection down East Main Street to Triangle Park.

            Statesboro City Manager George Wood said the city has always had a very good relationship with the director of the DSDA.

            "Downtown is in the middle of a revitalization and the DSDA has been big in promoting that area of the city," Wood said. "We've worked closely with the board and we look forward to working closely with the new director."

            Turner said it's important for the director to have a good relationship with city officials.

            "The director will serve as a conduit between the city and the business owners affected by the work taking place by the work on the streetscape project," Turner said.

            Both Hulsey and Todd said they hope the new director works to make downtown Statesboro a destination point and not just a place people drive through to get home or to other parts of town.

            To do that, Todd said downtown needs to continue to develop with shops and restaurants that attract people. In doing so, they may then walk the streets and stop into a store they might not otherwise have entered.

            Hulsey, meanwhile, would like to find a way to attract more Georgia Southern students to downtown.

            "One of the main things (students) mention about getting downtown is that it's three miles from where they live," he said.

            He'd also like to see some sort of music festival held downtown, possibly in conjunction with the Arts Center, in which the streets were blocked off and let people walk around downtown.

            "We have a great thing going at Mill Creek and people are used to going there," he said. "If we do one or two things downtown, I think it'd be great. It's worth a try."

            The DSDA Board of Directors meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

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