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Swainsboro's new 'Latitude'

Latitude 105 aims to attract East Georgia College students

Swainsboro's new 'Latitude'

Swainsboro's new 'Latitude'

A rendering of the Latitude 105 apart...


        With Latitude 105, Swainsboro is beginning to get, on a smaller scale, the sort of student-oriented housing expansion seen in Statesboro.
        The apartment complex being built into the framework of the long-vacant, single-story Gibson's store building at 105 N. Anderson Drive in Swainsboro is a private project. It is not affiliated in any way with East Georgia State College, whose original campus is about two miles away.
        But East Georgia students are Latitude 105's reason for being. The apartment building's contemporary styling - and features such as a gym and mini-theater - are all designed to appeal to students, acknowledges developer Hassan "Harry" Assi. Other shared amenities will include a community kitchen, a laundry, a computer room and an outdoor picnic and study area.
        As with a Forum or an Aspen Heights, even the name has been chosen to sound youthful. Swainsboro sits between 32 and 33 degrees north latitude, and latitudes max out at 90 degrees, so the only geography lesson in that name is the street number.
         "It's for college kids, you know, and we like to have a nice hip and cool name," said Assi, who has been shuttling between Swainsboro and his home base in San Diego for the project.
        Construction of phase 1, the retrofit of the Gibson's building to supply 60 fully furnished, dormitory-style apartments, began in early April. Assi hopes it will be completed in December to open in January for spring semester.
        The 37,000 square-foot complex will comprise 48 studio-style single-unit apartments, each with its own bathroom, kitchenette and living space, plus 12 two-bedroom units, Assi said. Four units will be ADA-accessible.
        He calls it a dormitory, even though having individual bathrooms for most units distinguishes it from many dorms. More typical of dorm living, the rent will include power, water, phone, sanitation, cable TV and wireless broadband.
        In California, Assi and his Emerald Alliance Corporation developed a number of subdivisions and condominium projects. When the construction slowdown lingered on the West Coast, he looked eastward for some undeveloped potential, and purchased more than 30 acres in Swainsboro. Technically, it's Latitude 105 LLC, a Georgia corporation, which will operate the Swainsboro complex.
        When phase 1, the Gibson's retrofit, is full or nearly full of residents, Assi said, he will begin construction of phase 2, a two-story structure with 100 more housing units on the same 3.5-acre site. For that plan, he said, he already has city of Swainsboro approval.
        But city go-ahead would be needed for phase 3, including retail development Assi foresees for 27 acres his firm purchased on the other side of the street.
        "If this becomes a success, we're looking to branch out to other places in Georgia," he said.
        The private project comes as East Georgia State College, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, has grown beyond its original identity as exclusively a commuter college. East Georgia's first and so-far only dormitory, 200-bed Bobcat Villas, opened on the Swainsboro campus in fall 2011 and quickly filled.
        About half of East Georgia's 3,000 students now attend class at the Swainsboro campus. Most of the other 1,500 are enrolled the Statesboro campus, which has no residence hall of its own but where students can take advantage of the same nearby private apartment complexes that serve Georgia Southern University students.
        Because the East Georgia Statesboro campus offers core classes but not all of the more advanced courses, many students from the Statesboro area eventually continue at the Swainsboro campus, say college officials. East Georgia opened an Augusta campus this semester and now has about 100 students there.
        Combined with other trends of recent years - especially the college's move into intercollegiate sports with basketball, baseball and softball - Bobcat Villas has given East Georgia in Swainsboro more aspects of campus life than its students enjoyed in the past, said EGSC public relations director Jerry Hooks. Athletes rank among the resident students.
        "It's really given us more of a college experience," Hooks said. "We're not by any means in Statesboro's league yet, but it was a big step for this community."
        East Georgia officials are interested in developing more student housing, either on-campus or in public-private partnerships, if demand would support it. The University System of Georgia is undertaking a study that will gauge that demand, confirmed John Vanchella, director of strategic communications for the University System Board of Regents.
        "We are aware that East Georgia State College would like to add housing," Vanchella said in an email. "We are currently taking a system-wide look at housing needs and demands which includes a market study. We will carefully analyze the market studies to inform our decisions going forward."

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