Statesboro, Bulloch County and Georgia Southern University community leaders gathered at little Jones Lane Park across from the university’s historic Southern Drive entrance at noon Wednesday and ceremonially broke ground for the Blue Mile Gateway.
The gateway is the first brick-and-mortar public project in the Blue Mile plan for South Main Street revitalization, which made Statesboro one of eight finalists in the America’s Best Communities competition. So far, the community has received $150,000 in prize money for further planning and for projects such as the gateway, but the third-, second- and first-place communities will be selected in April and awarded $1 million, $2 million or $3 million, respectively, for further redevelopment work.
Of course, South Main is a section of U.S. Highway 301, so vehicles rumbled past as leaders spoke briefly about a project that will mark the southern entrance to the Blue Mile corridor, leading from the university to downtown Statesboro. Accompanied by Eagles mascot Gus, Dr. Jaimie Hebert, Georgia Southern University’s president, spoke of the Blue Mile as another tie between an already close-knit “town” and “gown.”
“We’re one community, working together with a commitment to make this a vibrant and thriving community in which to live, to work and to play,” Hebert said.
Physically, the gateway will consist of two columns, one on either side of the highway, supporting “Statesboro Blue Mile” lettering held in steel-beam structures, like ends of a partial suspension bridge reaching toward each other. The square-based columns resemble some used at university entrances and also include a vase-like planter supported by a lower, outer section of brick column.
This less costly option takes the place of an arch, spanning the highway, which was shown in the original, visionary version of the Blue Mile plan.
Local business executives Darron Burnette and Keely Fennell, past chairs of the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce, co-chair the Blue Mile Committee.
“Our core objective was the gateway project to kind of symbolize the whole area and the revitalization, rebirth of the Blue Mile, and then we’re continuing to do a lot of work with neighborhood revitalization,” Burnette said.
As he mentioned, not everything in the Blue Mile plan is a publicly funded infrastructure or streetscape project. Work is proceeding on housing rehabilitation and construction through Habitat for Humanity and other organizations, and business recruitment to the corridor is producing results, Burnette said.
The committee has commissioned Whitfield Signs to build the gateway monuments. The brick base represents Bulloch County’s solid foundations, while the “industrial, modern top” will “show the aggressive way we’re moving,” Fennell said.
Besides some purely symbolic shovel work – no reason to dig up the park – ceremony participants wrote Blue Mile memories and messages on rocks for the base of the monuments. Light emitting diodes are planned to illuminate the signs in blue.
Temporary signboards at the location already depict the structures and suggest calling (912) 764-7239 to get involved.
Donors who contribute $5,000 will get their names on the monuments, with the money going to Blue Mile projects, Fennell said.
Corporate sponsors Frontier Communications, Dish Network, CoBank and the Weather Channel committed $10 million to the America’s Best Communities competition to encourage innovative thinking and fund redevelopment projects. Originally, more than 350 communities nationwide entered, and Statesboro’s plan proceeded through quarterfinal and semifinal rounds to the final eight.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.