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City adopts hands-off approach on Blue Mile winnings
Averitt Center to hold prize money
W Blue Mile SIGN 6023
Instead of pursuing an agreement with the new Blue Mile Foundation, Statesboros city government agreed Tuesday to hand the portion of Americas Best Communities winnings it holds over to the lead applicant in the competition, the Averitt Center for the Arts. - photo by AL HACKLE/file

Instead of pursuing an agreement with the new Blue Mile Foundation, Statesboro’s city government agreed Tuesday to hand the portion of America’s Best Communities winnings it holds over to the lead applicant in the competition, the Averitt Center for the Arts.

As a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation, the Averitt Center served as applicant on behalf of the community for the ABC competition that began in fall 2014. The Averitt Center, the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority and the city made an agreement in January 2016 for the city to act as fiscal agent, putting contest winnings under the city’s accounting procedures and auditing requirements.

After the Blue Mile plan for the revitalization of South Main Street garnered Statesboro the $1 million national third prize in April, that sum recently arrived in a designated Averitt Center account. But the city still holds about $137,000 remaining from earlier phases of the contest, including prize money and some Blue Mile fundraising proceeds.

At their previous meeting, City Council and Mayor Jan Moore postponed action on an updated agreement that would have involved the Blue Mile Foundation Inc. as well as the Averitt Center, the DSDA and the city. Councilman Phil Boyum had said he wanted the city represented on the foundation board.

“Councilman Boyum had some concerns about that memorandum of understanding, and I will say that, with one of those concerns he was absolutely right. …,” Moore said at Tuesday’s meeting. “That memorandum needed to be structured a little differently.”

The grand-prize winner’s agreement commits the Averitt Center to use the winnings for purposes in the updated community revitalization plan, City Attorney Cain Smith told the council. This agreement between the Statesboro ABC “team” and contest sponsors took effect May 23. It does not involve the city and is different from the local agreement approved by the council.

“It became apparent that the Averitt Center is listed as the participant in the prize winner’s agreement, and at that point, the city’s role as being the fiscal agent during the competition phase was no longer necessary,” Smith said.

Since the previous meeting, the city also benefitted from “another set of eyes” on the local memorandum of understanding, Moore said. Stephen T. Rushing, attorney for the Development Authority of Bulloch County and other organizations, reviewed the document as a courtesy and suggested one change.

The revised new agreement, approved 4-0 by the council Tuesday on a motion from Boyum seconded by Councilman Jeff Yawn, does not mention the Blue Mile Foundation. Instead, the new agreement notes the previous involvement of the Averitt, the DSDA and the city and then states: “All Funds currently held by City as fiscal agent shall be transferred to Averitt.”


City bows out

Further, the city releases any claims to the $1 million prize received by the Averitt. The agreement requires the Averitt to continue to provide the city and public an annual accounting of expenditures. But as soon as the city transfers the funds it holds to the Averitt, “any duty of the City to the other Partners shall be discharged,” the agreement states.

“We haven’t appointed anyone to the Blue Mile Foundation,” Boyum noted publicly after the council vote. “That’s all going to be negotiated down the road with the Averitt Center. We’re not appointing anybody; we’re not creating a foundation; we’re not putting anybody on the board.”

After the meeting, Smith said the way the agreement removes the city from further decisions, “wasn’t even discretionary,” since the city was no longer needed as fiscal agent.

“We are not putting any caveats or conditions on it because we’re not really in a position to do so,” Smith said.

But if city representatives are named to the Blue Mile Foundation, they will be neither elected officials nor city employees, to avoid potential conflicts, he added.

Moore previously noted that the foundation could be an applicant for Tax Allocation District funding, which the city will control.


Foundation work

The Blue Mile Foundation Inc., with Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce President Phyllis Thompson as its registered agent and local attorney Laura Marsh doing the legal work, was registered as a Georgia corporation April 20. But other steps must be completed to secure the 501c3 federal tax-exempt status, and Thompson said local accountant Doug Collins is helping with these.

“We are in the creation of submitting the 501c3 papers, which takes a long time, but the foundation exists,” Thompson said Tuesday.

Winning has brought some unexpected challenges, she acknowledged.

“But every step of the way has been the first time to try this effort, to enter this contest, for the contest to exist, and then, who knew that we were going to be in the winner’s circle,” Thompson said.

She said she understands the city’s reason for not including the foundation in the modified agreement, since the foundation did not exist when the original agreement was created.

“This is good because it shows a very clean money trail, and we’re all very pleased with that,” Thompson said.

The foundation, she said, remains open to considering other members for its board.       

“We want to do a great job, so if there are other people that we have needed to see or consider, we definitely want to do that,” Thompson said. “I think that the core members are reflective of the people who have been involved in this process the longest.”


Averitt’s role

Jamie Grady started work as the Averitt Center’s executive director May 1, but quickly learned about the Averitt’s role in the ABC competition. In fact, he signed the May 23 winner’s agreement.

“We were asked to be a part of it through our nonprofit status, which we are happy to do,” Grady said Wednesday.

“Nobody knew the outcome, that we would actually receive the million dollars, so having that is a great gift for us and our community, obviously, but it has created some steps that people didn’t necessarily anticipate,” he said. “We’re just working through those steps, and we’ll be delivering the prize winnings to the Blue Mile Foundation once it’s set up.”

Frontier Communications, CoBank, Dish Network and the Weather Channel sponsored the ABC competition.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.


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