After accepting newly completed Tormenta Way as a city street Tuesday evening, Statesboro City Council approved a $1,155,404 final advance to developers of the surrounding tax allocation district, or TAD, from $4.75 million borrowed for infrastructure improvements, also including the widening of a section of Old Register Road.
Tormenta Way passes between the sites of South Georgia Tormenta FC’s planned soccer stadium and the shopping center to be built by Watkins Retail Group with a Publix supermarket as its flagship store.
The city withheld $250,000 as leverage for contractors hired by JGR Development LLC, led by Tormenta FC President Darin Van Tassell, to complete some final “punch list” items on the road work. But other than that, JGR has now received all of the $4.75 million, said City Manager Charles Penny.
A little more than a quarter-mile long, Tormenta Way runs parallel to Veterans Memorial Parkway, also known as the bypass. From west to east, the new street begins at Old Register Road and ends south of where Akins Boulevard, a major entrance to Georgia Southern University’s campus, currently ends at the bypass.
“When a developer builds a street … it’s their street, but once they complete the project, they then want it to become a public street, so they have to dedicate the right of way to the city of Statesboro, and you would have to receive that right of way,” Penny told the mayor and council. “From then on, that street becomes the responsibility of the city.”
Council members unanimously accepted the deed for Tormenta Way and its 100-foot-wide right of way, totaling 4.43 acres.
Six lanes plus
For almost a half mile from the Clubhouse Family Entertainment Center entrance to the bypass, Old Register Road has been greatly expanded, mostly to five lanes, and at the Tormenta Way intersection to six lanes for motor vehicle traffic, plus bicycle lanes.
The developers, who are also the founding property owners of the tax allocation district, had the street work done and utility lines relocated, with the city providing the cash from $4.75 million it borrowed from a bank at a special low interest rate. That money is an advance on revenue the city is projected to receive in its TAD fund, but the payments are made upon proof of work already done.
JGR Development’s original agreement with the city called for reimbursements in two big installments, but the agreement has been amended more than once.
“We would never make a final payment until all the work is done,” Penny told the council. “However, you have contractors that have done work that need to be paid. So we’re before you today to amend that agreement for the last time.”
Council members also approved this unanimously. After the $1,155,404 payment, the provision for a $250,000 retained amount allows this to be paid out, not necessarily in one lump sum, upon Penny’s approval.
Van Tassell said the road work that JGR is responsible for is about 99% complete, with things such as some grassing and landscaping remaining to be done.
He noted that, separate from the TAD, the city and Georgia Southern obtained state funding to extend Akins Boulevard south from the bypass to connect to Tormenta Way and beyond that, with the university’s “South Campus” area.
The city is serving as the conduit for a $1.3 million grant, approved last spring, from the Georgia Department of Transportation for the first phase of the Akins Boulevard Extension, to Tormenta Way, with the university providing required partial matching funds. Oct. 7 is the due date for bids on this project.
The city also spent about $500,000 from its Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for installation of traffic lights, and this is not part of the money to be recovered from the TAD fund or developers.
Getting the streets complete to this point now serves as the basis for the private development to move forward, Van Tassell said.
“I think this fall we’ll really begin to see a whole bunch of things really going north and vertical with both Publix and the stadium and quite a few other things,” he told the mayor and council. “It’s taken us a minute to get to all that.”
JGR to repay?
So far, with no stadium or supermarket or other development beyond the roads and other infrastructure, the city has no money to speak of in the Old Register TAD fund. The TAD authorization sets aside property tax revenue from new construction and growth in appraised values in the district, above the baseline value on Dec. 31, 2018, to pay for public infrastructure.
But to get approval of the TAD from the city, the Bulloch County commissioners and the Board of Education, the developers in 2018 offered to have a Special Services District established over the same property. That district would give the city direct taxing power over the developers or future property owners.
With payments of $52,012.50 on the bank loan now falling due each February and August, Penny served the developers notice with a June 10 letter that the city will move to establish the Special Services District in 2021 unless they make full payment to the city. It would amount to $104,025 for the year.
“We do have some time to resolve this outstanding issue prior to the bond payment becoming due, and I encourage everyone to work together to come to an appropriate resolution prior to City duties under the Development Agreement becoming effective,” he stated in the final paragraph.
The developers proposed the creation of the Old Register TAD in 2018 to build the public infrastructure needed to support private investments in the soccer stadium and shopping center and future hotels, restaurants, office suites and loft apartments on 200-plus acres.
Ready to build
After holding a groundbreaking ceremony in March 2019, Van Tassell revised the projected date of the stadium’s completion forward to early 2021, but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are two things that are really doing it,” he said Tuesday evening. “One was really getting that infrastructure all finished so we could move things, and now it’s the timing of COVID. You know, no one wants to have something open that you can’t open at full capacity.
“So there have been some delays, but I think now we’re all starting to be comfortable enough to get started with construction and get some things open by third and fourth quarter 2021,” Van Tassell said.
Bob Peck, Watkins Retail Group’s vice president of development, said in April that the company’s goal is to break ground by the end of the year for Eagles Corner Shopping Center, including the Publix store.