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Our Views - Downtown venue would benefit both city, county

      Bulloch County commissioners heard a presentation Tuesday about putting a community park in downtown Statesboro and a request to help fund its creation using a portion of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax dollars.
      While Commissioner Roy Thompson raised a good point that the vote to extend the penny SPLOST tax won't be held until November, we believe the park project is a good idea and it's not too soon to begin serious planning. We also believe the county is correct in seeking more details about the proposed park before weighing a decision on approving funding.
      Last month, commissioners approved placing on the Nov. 8 general election ballot a referendum to extend the current SPLOST until 2019. The extension is projected to raise approximately $82 million for capital improvement projects ranging from roads to water and sewer to recreation facilities. The county has an intergovernmental agreement with the cities of Statesboro, Brooklet, Portal and Register to share the funds.
      The agreement stipulates Bulloch County would receive $40.4 million, Statesboro $28.9 million, Brooklet $1.4 million, Portal $458,000 and Register $177,000 of the funds. The remaining $10.7 million would be committed to a joint project.
      The list of projects is very general. For example, one section in the referendum reads:
"6. Capital outlay projects for economic development for Bulloch County and the municipality of Statesboro, including but not limited to land acquisition, site development and construction of water and sewer infrastructure."
      Allen Muldrew, executive director of the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority, has been working with a coalition of groups including the Mainstreet Farmers Market, the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Averitt Center for the Arts on a project that would bring a multi-purpose venue to the downtown area. The venue would house the Farmers Market, feature an open green-space for play or community events/gatherings and potentially host concerts or other regional attractions.
      Muldrew said he has a tentative agreement with Statesboro city officials that would earmark $600,000 in SPLOST funding towards the venue project. Muldrew appeared before commissioners Tuesday asking they also consider directing $600,000 of county SPLOST dollars to developing the venue.
      Commissioners, in general, like the idea, but they are understandably reluctant to make a commitment until they see a more detailed plan with project costs spelled out. The county has made clear its top priority for expending SPLOST funds, if approved, is the development of infrastructure for the Interstate 16/Highway 301 interchange, which could be a magnet for significant economic growth. It also plans large expenditures for roads, possible land acquisition for parks and fire department and EMS needs. All are needed improvements that would benefit county and city residents.
      We do, however, hope county commissioners keep an open mind about the community park. We are confident Muldrew and his group soon will give commissioners a fleshed-out-as-possible plan with numbers backed by solid financial analysis.
      The Main Street Farmers Market has grown since it was started in 2008 into a real part of the local economy, generating $250,000 a year. And while a multi-purpose venue would benefit the Market and its farmers and vendors most immediately, it would be a boon to the entire county, not just the farmers and the downtown area where it would be located. It would be a gathering place for all Bulloch residents and an attraction for non-residents, too.
      Right now, there is no place downtown to have an outdoor event on grass other than the courthouse, which is not a people friendly place. Having street gatherings in front of City Hall or in the asphalt parking lots near West Main Street doesn't work. A real venue with grass, water and trees would allow for outdoor events in a relaxed, inviting atmosphere and draw large numbers of people into the heart of our community.
      The SPLOST vote may be three months away, but we hope commissioners fully consider the benefits a community park would bring to the local economy and to the quality of life for all residents. We urge the county to put funding for a downtown community park on its final SPLOST list.
      We believe what's good for the city of Statesboro is good for Bulloch County and what's good for Bulloch County is good for Statesboro. And a multi-event venue downtown certainly would be good for both the city and county.

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