This past year saw continued positive economic development for the city of Statesboro's historic downtown area. An interview with Downtown Statesboro Development Authority executive director Allen Muldrew yielded both highlights from 2012, in addition to the ever present challenges faced in redevelopment efforts.
"We were fortunate to have several new businesses and redevelopment in the downtown area this past year," Muldrew said. "The biggest pop to downtown has been 40 East Grill. Owner Heath Robinson has jumped into downtown looking for ways to contribute. They are great team players sponsoring events and participating in activities."
Muldrew said one thing local residents may not realize is that Chops has expanded to be able to host events and receptions in their new Walnut Room, which opened this past year.
"This adds a new dimension to Chops, and gives another venue in downtown for larger parties and gatherings"
Muldrew said the Averitt Arts Center remains downtown's largest economic engine.
"Bringing in close to 50,000 people a year, as well as assisting a host of other activities, the Averitt Center remains the centerpiece of activity year round," he said. "By partnering with the city and the Arts Center, we were able to finish the last redevelopment of 58 East Main which is home to Georgia Southern's city campus. The old white block building in the rear was an adaptive reuse project and redeveloped into the Statesboro Ballet Studio. This was over 4,000 square feet of undeveloped, vacant and unsightly property that is now a very attractive and productive space in the downtown area."
Muldrew said even with all of the positive developments that have happened this past year, historic Statesboro still faces significant redevelopment hurdles.
"The biggest challenge is taking vacant property and buildings and turning those into productive use that compliments the downtown area," he said. "The downtown area has a good clientele mix, is easily accessible with consistently wonderful traffic counts for retail. We are becoming successful by continually getting the message out and going in where the DSDA can help in the redevelopment process. Our incentive package for business and loft apartments is also designed to assist."
With the continued success of the Statesboro Farmers Market, Muldrew is hoping to find a permanent home for the weekly happening that has become extremely popular among local residents.
"The proposed Signature Park in the downtown area still has strong community support and would serve as a strong economic redevelopment tool for the city and the county," he said. "This multi purpose venue would be the home for the Farmers Market. The whole project is still a priority."
Muldrew senses a shift in development direction for the area.
"One example of the changing dynamics is that there is a waiting list for people looking to live in the loft apartments," he said. "If a developer wants to experience full occupancy come downtown. Also, a unique dining experience can be experienced best in the downtown area, and I think it can grow.
"One of the big reasons we have had success is because we have strong support from our City Council. They care about downtown and are willing to put resources into making it better."