The Blue Mile Foundation and the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority spent more than $1.3 million last year buying several parcels of land for the development of the Creek on the Blue Mile, including lots for resale to private investors.
But the city of Statesboro is still seeking a deal to acquire land for the reservoir, which would retain rainwater and send it down the creek in a controlled way. For now, the city is negotiating an agreement with some private landowners just to allow surveyors and engineers access to land west of South College Street where the reservoir is proposed.
That was the case when the city’s Creek on the Blue Mile Advisory Committee met in early October, and it is still the case this week.
“We are still working with the property owners on access to the property and regarding acquisition of the property,” Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles said Monday. “So, both of those are still ongoing. Nothing has been resolved on that matter yet.”
The city is working through real estate agency Manack Signature Properties to negotiate the purchase of the proposed reservoir site. On maps available at the Bulloch County Board of Tax Assessors website, the area suggested for the reservoir falls within a 165-acre tract shown as property of Daniel B. Olliff and family members.
Since an earlier, conceptual plan was developed, 25 acres has been cited as the possible, approximate size of the reservoir. But the exact size is one of the things a detailed engineering study is supposed to determine.
In September, City Council approved a $832,417 contract for a team, led by Freese & Nichols but involving other engineering concerns and a local surveying firm, to do a feasibility study leading to federal and state permit applications.
City staff has since given Freese & Nichols notice to proceed.
“They’re working their way through the basin and up the creek,” Boyles said.
But access to the reservoir area will have to wait for an agreement.
As has been publicly known since the beginning of the year, the city of Statesboro has an agreement with the state for a $5.5 million grant through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, or GEFA. This money, technically a “state direct investment,” can be used to build the reservoir, including acquiring land for it, but not for other parts of the plan, local officials have said.
Through GEFA, the state is also providing the city a very low-interest line of credit for up to $15.5 million, which can be used for other public infrastructure work on the creek’s flood-control aspects.
But the nonprofit Blue Mile Foundation Inc., which received Statesboro’s $1 million third-place America’s Best Communities competition prize in 2017, and the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority bought land along the path of the creek both for the linear park and to sell for business development. Restaurants and shops are envisioned around the water features and park areas.
In May 2018, the Blue Mile Foundation purchased the lot at 423 Fair Road from Timothy A. Hunt at a price shown in the Board of Assessors’ database as $265,000. Then in July 2018, the foundation purchased neighboring 425 and 427 Fair Road from Jimmy S. and Dorothy Ann Taylor for a combined price shown as $450,000. This property includes a house and a barbershop.
In December 2018, the foundation bought a house and lot at 431 South Main St. from Joseph Robert Charron, at a price shown as $325,000. This is on the west side of South Main, beside the hotel being redeveloped as a Holiday Inn Express by private, for-profit Blue Mile Hospitality LLC.
The DSDA owns a single parcel, purchased in May 2018 at a price shown as $285,000 from Marybeth Wildes Sapp, on the east side of South Main. It adjoins the three Blue Mile Foundation parcels that face Fair Road. All of these lots measure less than one acre each.
Private owners also deeded two narrow pieces of land including the current drainage canal to the foundation.
Beyond those properties, the planned linear park passes on to the Fair Road Park, city-owned but operated by the Statesboro-Bulloch Parks and Recreation Department. Creek project supporters have also suggested redeveloping it as part of the project.
Creek on the Blue Mile Advisory Committee co-chair Andy Burns said the Blue Mile Foundation and DSDA hope to sell lots for private development to bring up to $5 million in non-tax money back into the project.
“The funds for the reservoir came from the state in the grant,” Burns said after the Oct. 8 meeting. “The funds for stormwater management, which is the creek, will come from the loan. But the funds to do a lot of the infrastructure for the economic portion of the park will come from the profits from selling the lots.”
That infrastructure will include landscaping features and things such as park benches, he said. Subcommittees have been formed to plan outdoor art projects, as well as to consider architectural design regulations.
The nonprofit organizations will sell the lots on behalf of the city, and none of the committee members stand to profit, he said.
In addition to the purchase price, private lot buyers would contribute monthly or annual fees to maintain common areas, Burns has suggested. This approach has been used successfully in the Market District, of which he and Doug Lambert, the other Creek Advisory Committee co-chair, were developers.
“But we cannot sell these lots until the engineering is done and we’re exactly sure where these lots are going to be,” Burns cautioned.
The current study is expected to take a year to complete. Until it is done, potential buyers wouldn’t know whether all of the property can be removed from the flood zone, he said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.