With new leadership firmly in place, the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority (DSDA) and Main Street Statesboro have positioned themselves to begin another chapter of redevelopment in Statesboro's city center.
Heath Seymour, the agencies' new executive director, is using his experience as an artist and former main street director in Hodgenville, Ky. to bring new life to Statesboro's downtown renaissance.
"I think it is so important to create density in a downtown area such as Statesboro," Seymour said. "By density, I mean people living as well as working downtown. That is what creates the vibrancy that you want. You need density and a really interesting mix of commercial."
Seymour said the recent revitalization of downtown Statesboro is in keeping with national trends.
"There is a movement throughout the country in which downtowns are being redeveloped or people are building developments that look and feel like a downtown," he said. "People want it both ways. They want their big box chain stores and restaurants and then they want their quaint downtown stores and independent restaurants."
Barry Turner serves as the chairman of the board of the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority. Turner said his organization, under the direction of Seymour, is actively working to bring more new businesses to the heart of Statesboro.
"We support and try to pursue any development that will make a positive impact on the downtown district," Turner said. "We particularly like to promote downtown living, dining establishments, unique retail shops, arts and cultural endeavors, and any type business that does not detract from a progressive, yet homey atmosphere."
Seymour said one the biggest challenges he faces is the number of property owners and the differences between individual properties.
"When you have a really large commercial development, you can control what goes in and out and market it that way," he said. "When you are marketing a downtown such as ours, you are literally marketing a number of very unique properties with owners that have different visions. It is a fun problem to have, but it does make things a little more difficult.
Janis Hope is the owner of Bridal Creations on East Main Street. Although pleased with the recent redevelopment that has occurred in the downtown business district, Hope feels like more strides need to be made.
"I've been downtown for almost 30 years, and I am amazed at the progress we have seen," Hope said. "I still think we have a way to go though. Downtown needs to have more of a relaxed and comfortable feel. I don't think we have accomplished that yet. I would like to see people come here, stroll around and enjoy a relaxing shopping experience."
Robby Richardson recently joined the downtown business community when he and his wife Lacey opened Hugo's Restaurant at the corner of South Main and Vine Streets. Richardson said he is pleased with the type of crowd that is coming downtown at night.
"We are getting a great clientele, and I am thrilled with that," Richardson said. "I am just learning what the development authority does, and I would really like to see them do more promotion of First Friday. It is a wonderful concept and a great way to promote downtown."
Seymour agrees with both of the concerns voiced by Hope and Richardson.
"We really need to do a better job of promoting first Friday and that is one of my immediate goals," he said. "We also need places for people to sit and enjoy themselves when they are downtown which means more benches, more places to browse, and even a place to grab an ice cream cone and the like."
Turner said the authority is pursuing a number of redevelopment avenues and wants people to realize how important nightlife in the city's heart has become.
"We are excited about some expanded plans for the Holiday Celebration that will be released in the near future," he said. "Generally speaking, we are very excited about the continued success of the Averitt Center and what it means to downtown, and the success of the dining establishments in our district. Downtown does not close down when the offices and shops close at 6 pm — a whole different segment of activity begins then and extends into the evening."
The DSDA, established in 1981, consists of nine members of which eight are appointed by the members of the authority to represent the owners of real property or owners of business establishments. The DSDA is empowered with the authority to acquire, improve, sell, lease, and / or mortgage property within the DSDA District for the development and improvement of property in the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority District.