When local investor Bob Bryan purchased the 110-acre tract of land from the Hill family that now houses East Georgia Regional Medical Center and the Market District nearly two decades ago, most folks thought he had lost his mind.
However, when East Georgia announced the purchase of a 25-acre tract to build a new hospital, the business community took notice. East Georgia opened the new hospital in 2000.
Then, in 2003, local developer Andy Burns completed the first retail center on the property "Main Street Village," which houses Minuteman Press, Jimmy Johns, Entourage Clothing, Colonial House of Flowers and other popular retail shops and professional offices. Main Street Village became the gateway for the Market District and a lot of future development.
In 2004 Larry Owens, local entrepreneur, owner of Dingus Magees and an avid pilot, was flying Bryan to a meeting when he pitched the idea to him of selling off the rest of the property as a whole parcel. Bob agreed to sell the remaining 85 acres to Owens for $5 million.
Owens quickly started reaching out to local investors and in a matter of days they had put together an impressive group of experienced developers, entrepreneurs and business owners to purchase the property. In addition to Owens, the group included Burns, Doug Lambert, Donald Nesmith, Jeff Hook, Bob Coston, Bill Simmons and Danny Clifton. This would become the largest development in the city limits owned and developed by local businessmen.
"To tell you how much things have changed in the banking industry our group invited banks to bid on the $5 million loan. We offered no additional collateral other than the property itself and five banks bid on our business," Lambert said.
Within the first year they had sold enough of the land to recover their initial investment and the rest is history.
"We had a great group who shared a common vision for this property," Burns said. "Every member of the group brought a unique perspective and expertise to the project. We wanted this to be different and we knew the demand was there to support our ideas and vision. The goal was to create a balance between professional and retail to make the project desirable to all segments of the market. Because we retired the debt so quickly, we were able to be more selective in the types of business that located in the Market District, protecting the balance of the shopping experience."
"This was the first commercial project that had restrictive covenants in place," Nesmith said. "With the covenants we could protect the development and ensure a common theme in the integrity of the development. Controlling not only the quality of businesses that located here, but the aesthetics of the buildings and signage has played a large role in the success of the project."
Building quality in the Market District is controlled by an Architectural Review Committee. The committee, combined with the restrictive covenants, has resulted in an attractive, desirable and coordinated development.
With the recent sale of an 11-acre tract to The Hutton Company, which developed the Walmart Neighborhood Market, and the private sale of two additional lots, the group has completely sold out the development just 11 years after the purchase. The Hutton Company development alone was a $14 million project. Even though there are still a few lots available for sale, these account for resale's from investors.
The group worked closely with the City of Statesboro in the development of the Market District and exceeded the expectations set forward for the property in the City's Master Plan. The investors completed over $1 million in infrastructure improvements, which made the development site ready and highly attractive to prospects.
Property values on the land have increased from $5 million to approximately $80 million today. In addition, they have helped create several hundred new jobs in the community and had a significant impact on the generation of sales tax revenue for the city.
"There is no way we could do a project of this magnitude in this economic environment," Nesmith said. "Timing was certainly on our side. Having the debt covered gave us the breathing room to not compromise the integrity of the development during the downturn. It is certainly a legacy project that each of us who invested can be very proud of."
"Of course it is always better to be lucky than to be good," Lambert said. "The important part is to not confuse the two. We had a lot of luck, but the group made some hard decisions early on and did not waver when times were hard and the end result is a project we are all pleased to be associated with."
If the past is any indication of the future, I think we can expect to see the available property developed over the next few years to house more popular restaurants, professional offices and retail centers. The Market District will serve as a model development in the Boro for years to come.
Please email DeWayne at email@example.com or give him a call at (912) 489-9499.
• The former Alltel store located in Southern Crossings next to Olive Garden was rebranded as a Verizon store and has been relocated to 1098 Bermuda Run Rd St#2 in the Market District near Shane's Rib Shack. The full service Verizon retailer will be holding a ribbon cutting on Tuesday, April 21 at 11:45 a.m. and the public is invited to attend.