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A new Visitors Center
Old Shoney's building to undergo full renovation
Shoneys Project Sign Web
Plans for the new Statesboro Convention and Visitors Center are shown in front of the old Shoney's Restaurant Building on South Main St. and below. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

        If all unfolds as envisioned, by the end of 2014, the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau will move into 222 S. Main St., a highly visible, spacious new visitors center with plenty of parking.
        In the planning committee's foresight, the parking area will feature a smart-car charging station and an RV parking area with a relief station. The existing Blind Willie McTell Trail will be a short walk away, as will a small dog park being planned by the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority.
        These things are intended to make the new visitors center more of a destination than the old one.
        "Those amenities that we want to offer are not just for the sake of offering them," said Barry Turner, immediate past president of the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau board. "They are to become an attraction that will actually bring people to town to make use of those things for their convenience, and then, of course, the goal is that they would actually be here a little longer and spend some money locally."
        A visitor information center that provides a relief station - in other words a sewer connection for motor homes and campers - could easily be advertised through magazines for recreational vehicle owners. Similarly, an association of electric car owners helps to get the word out about charging stations, so these things offer built-in marketing opportunities, Turner suggests. The RV parking would be for use only during short stops at the center, not overnight.
        Inside, the planned SCVB headquarters will include exhibits from the Georgia Southern University Museum and Ogeechee Technical College. These, and the usual supply of visitor center brochures on area attractions such as the GSU Raptor Center, Splash in the Boro and the Averitt Center for the Arts will suggest other destinations that could give visitors reasons to extend their stay.
        Turner, who is also Ogeechee Tech's vice president for college advancement, made finding a new SCVB headquarters a priority during his year as the organization's president, 2012-13. He remains involved in the project through a steering committee that also includes SCVB Executive Director Heidi Jeffers and board Vice President Darin Van Tassell.
        "We had been looking at various properties along the South Main corridor for a while, with the idea of being able to not only improve our location but to do something to improve that South Main corridor," Turner said.
        Right now, picturing the completed project requires some imagination. The old Shoney's building, as 222 S. Main is better known, has been gutted to make way for the renovations to come. The tall Shoney's sign was recently removed, but the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau is keeping the shorter sign to be remade for its own purposes.

Current site low-key
        Improving visibility, after all, is part of what the planned move is about.
        Currently, the SCVB occupies a wooden house, between two other houses, further south on South Main. It blends in instead of standing out. Narrow driveways on each side lead to parking in back, and Turner observed that maneuvering a large RV in and out is "literally impossible."
        The Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau is one of the agencies funded by the city's hotel/motel tax. Saving in anticipation of a move, the bureau had amassed a nest egg, and also intends to use proceeds from selling its current building. The organization hopes to complete the entire project for a total investment of less than $500,000.

Two banks assist
        Two banks have a role in making the vision a reality. The Shoney's building had become property of HeritageBank of the South, which sold it to the SCVB in late 2013 for the very favorable price of $225,000.
        Once worth more than $1 million, the building and land were valued at $810,000 in a 2006 sale, according to Board of Assessors records. After the restaurant went out of business the building's condition declined, but the total value in the 2013 tax record was $501,021.
        Another local financial institution, Sea Island Bank, is providing one of its low-interest South Main revitalization loans for the project.
        "Both of the banks were doing what they could to help better the community in offering us a chance to take an old, derelict property and convert it to something that would be attractive and beneficial," Turner said.
        At this point, ideas for the various amenities remain preliminary, he said. Architect Frank D'Arcangelo has been working with the SCVB on the overall plan. A mockup of the new visitor center's exterior appeared as the centerpiece of a display of visions for South Main Street's revitalization at last month's community meeting on the subject.
        SCVB committee members hope to see their vision become a reality this autumn.
        Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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