The developer in the process of buying a majority of the old Julia P. Bryant Elementary School campus proposes to make it a senior community called Bryant Landing and create 51 apartments in Phase I, keeping and transforming three of the former school buildings in the process.
Those three buildings would be renovated to provide 11 two-bedroom apartments, 13 one-bedroom apartments, one efficiency apartment and a community space for residents. Additionally, three new structures would be built, including two along the Stockyard Road side of the property containing eight two-bedroom apartments each and one building along Donnie Simmons Way containing 10 one-bedroom apartments.
That would be Phase 1 and could cost $9 million or $10 million from land acquisition to final buildout, said Bill Gross, whose W.H. Gross Construction Company, based at Kingsland, is a leading developer of tax credit-financed senior housing in southeastern Georgia. In some of his projects he repurposes historic structures such as former schools, with one showcase example being the Romana Riley Lofts in Savannah. Spread-out, single-story former Julia P. Bryant Elementary is not as quaint as the three-story, circa-1909 Romana Riley School, but Gross still wants to recapture some old-school appeal.
“We’re trying to keep the look, the feel of the old Julia Bryant School – in fact we’ll call it Bryant Landing – and so we’re really trying to save a piece of history and capitalize on it, and the other buildings would complement – that doesn’t mean be exactly like – but the look and the feel of the neighborhood,” he said on the phone Friday.
Statesboro City Council, by a unanimous vote Tuesday, approved a zoning change from R-15 single-family residential to R-4 high-density residential for about 4.5 acres of the property and a variance reducing the number of parking spaces required for the complex from 82 to 68.
Other official approvals and funding work will be needed before construction can begin. Most critically right now, Gross will be applying to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, or DCA, this month for a combination of state and federal tax credits for the project. If these are approved, he will enter “partnerships” with other investors, usually big companies, for these credits and use the proceeds to fund the project.
It is a competitive process in which the DCA scores proposals and awards the available tax credits to those with the highest scores.
Bryant Landing would be neither an assisted-living facility nor a Public Housing Authority-type development. But it would be meant for seniors – in most cases people age 62 and up – who are usually on fixed incomes such as Social Security, he notes.
“The DCA challenges us, as tax-credit developers, to do not just the tangibles of providing clean, safe, affordable housing, but also the intangibles, which are how can we help the seniors have a better quality of life through activities, involvement in the community, healthy eating,” Gross said.
The objective, he said, is to create a “transformational” community, and his firm will find or create a “community quarterback,” typically a nonprofit agency that coordinates efforts of other organizations to provide programming, such as healthy living classes and activities for residents.
Gross developed Live Oak Landing I in Savannah, where Healthy Savannah is the community quarterback organization. His company is now developing Live Oak Landing II, also in Savannah, and has a senior community about half completed in Brunswick. He developed one in Hinesville as well and is now finishing another in Waycross. W.H. Gross Construction has also built family housing complexes in Pembroke, St. Marys and Brunswick.
Mayor Jonathan McCollar said the city of Statesboro will be as supportive as possible because the project “addresses a severe need.” People are on waiting lists for some existing local senior living communities, he noted.
“The biggest thing that the city has done to support that development is becoming a member of the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing program,” McCollar said in an interview.
Statesboro was accepted into the three-year GICH program, which the DCA also helps oversee, in late 2019. A local team identifies housing deficiencies and develops plans to improve them.
“Right now the city of Statesboro is scoring extremely high for these types of developments because of its involvement with that program,” McCollar said.
Won’t know until fall
Although the applications are due by the end of May, Gross won’t find out until October or November whether he has been awarded the tax credits, he said. The Bryant Landing project hinges on getting the tax credits, but he wouldn’t call it off if denied this year.
“We would certainly try to get it next year, but we’re trying for this year and it looks very promising,” he said.
Phase II of the project would double it in size to about 100 units, but that would require further planning and another year’s award of tax credits.
In fact, Gross hasn’t bought the old JPB Elementary School property from Bulloch County Board of Education at this point, but he has a contract to purchase it. Whether they close on the deal is also contingent on the award of tax credits, Troy Brown, Bulloch County Schools assistant superintendent of business services, confirmed Friday.
Gross’ contract is for the purchase of approximately 10.5 acres, roughly two-thirds of the 15-acre campus, including the buildings on that parcel.
“The contract states that the closing must be no later than (Dec. 30) 2022. But, we anticipate that the closing will be by (Dec. 31) 2021,” Brown stated in a reply email Friday.
The Board of Education voted 8-0 on March 11 to declare the property no longer needed for a school and, separately, to enter a contract to sell it for $400,000 plus the demolition and removal by W.H. Gross Construction of two buildings on the third of the property the school district will keep.
Two weeks later, the board again voted 8-0 to approve the sale contract. The terms didn’t change, except that the contract specified Stockyard Housing LP as the buyer, Brown said.
The city’s zoning actions were also for Stockyard Housing LP. This company was registered March 12 with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office for “any legal purpose,” after WHG-Statesboro Tax Credit LLC was registered Feb. 25 for the purpose of construction of multifamily housing. Gross is the registered agent of both.
Food bank situation
The sale of the property will displace the Statesboro Food Bank, which occupies a couple of the buildings Gross plans to renovate for apartments. He visited Food Bank Inc. Operations Director Jodi Brannon earlier this week to assure her that the charity does not have to move out “overnight.”
However, Gross noted that the timing of the food bank’s move is not his decision, since the school system still owns the property.
“We will only ask the Food Bank to move to their new location just prior to closing on the facilities,” Brown said in the email Friday.
The food bank is exploring every option, and people in the community have been very helpful in suggesting ideas, Brannon said. But even December isn’t far off as the organization explores possibilities from downsizing its operations because of limited space at some locations to putting up its own building, she said.
“Maybe we have to think about going into somewhere temporary and then looking for something more permanent later, just depending on the timeline,” Brannon said.