After developer Bill Gross’ plan fell just short of qualifying in 2021 for tax credits needed to transform the old Julia P. Bryant Elementary School into affordable housing for senior citizens, the Bulloch County Board of Education and Statesboro City Council have taken steps to improve his chances in 2022.
Back in March 2021, the Board of Education unanimously approved a conditional contract for Gross to buy about 10.5 acres, roughly two-thirds of the 15-acre campus, including the buildings on that parcel. He was to pay for $400,000 and have his company, W.H. Gross Construction, demolish and remove two buildings on the part of the property that the school district will keep.
In his plan for Phase 1 of a senior living community called Bryant’s Landing, Gross would keep and renovate three former school buildings – the cafeteria and office area and two classroom wings – and also build three new buildings to create a total of 51 apartments. The new buildings would form the faces the complex, along Stockyard Road and Donnie Simmons Way.
But the whole deal was contingent on his qualifying for federal and state tax credits, administered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, or DCA, to finance the project. The original school board contract allowed him until Dec. 30, 2022, to secure the credits.
Gross applied in the 2021 round of funding, and as he explained to Statesboro’s mayor and council in a May 17 work session, the project came as close to approval as possible without actually being approved.
“You know, last year we were unsuccessful,” Gross said. “We were in a tie-breaker, we would have gotten it, but … the allocation of credits was cut back to cover some costs other developers had, and so, unfortunately, we were the first one that didn’t get it.”
The red line
In the DCA’s Housing Tax Credit Program awards list, posted last fall and revised in February at www.dca.ga.gov/node/3814, a red line appears immediately above the Bryant’s Landing, Statesboro proposal and just below a project called Dunbar Court in Byron.
The Statesboro project, the Byron project and one in Dahlonega listed immediately above them all received the same score. But while the Byron and Dahlonega projects were selected to receive tax credits, the Statesboro project was marked “NS TiebrK” (non-selected, tiebreaker). Projects listed below it were simply “non-select(ed).”
If the tax credits were approved, Gross’s company would enter “partnerships” with other investors, usually big companies, and use the proceeds to fund the construction. The corporate investors would, in turn, use the credits to reduce their taxes.
W.H. Gross Construction, based at Kingsland, is a leading developer of tax credit-financed housing in southeastern Georgia. In some of his projects Gross repurposes historic structures such as former schools, with one showcase example being the Romana Riley Lofts, created from the former Romana Riley School in Savannah.
After last fall’s near miss with Bryant’s Landing, Gross talked to Bulloch County Schools and Statesboro city officials seeking a revised deal and indications of city support. In fact, both boards had taken action before Gross came to the city’s May 17 work session, at the request of District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum and Mayor Jonathan McCollar, to give an update.
The Board of Education on April 14, by a 7-0 vote with one member absent, authorized Superintendent Charles Wilson to sign an amendment to the sales contract with Gross and also a new intergovernmental agreement with the city of Statesboro. City Council by a 5-0 vote on April 19 also approved the intergovernmental agreement, which transferred a portion of the old Julia P. Bryant School property from the school system to the city government.
Then, on May 3, the council unanimously approved an agreement with Gross’ project-specific company, Bryant’s Landing Statesboro LP, giving it an option for a minimum 50-year ground lease of that portion of the property, 4.49 acres. He has until Dec. 31, 2023 to accept the lease, and would then owe the city only a $10 annual rent.
Like the school board’s sale, the city’s lease agreement is contingent on Gross’ company being awarded the tax credits.
“If they are selected, then we will execute the lease,” said City Manager Charles Penny.
With the city acting as a go-between, this gives Gross’s company “site control” of the property as he applies again for the tax credits, Penny said Friday.
“When they submit their application next week, they have control of the property, and it will give them an extra point toward qualifying for the tax credits,” Penny said.
Gross is still expected to pay the school board for the rest of the site. The property the city is holding to lease to his company is the part to be developed as Phase 1, under the current application for tax credits. The other half, including the gymnasium and football field, would be developed in a Phase 2, requiring further tax credicts.
“The school board could have done the same thing, but that’s not what they do,” Penny said. “They’re not in the redevelopment business, but seeing cities enter into agreements with these types of developers is not an unusual thing.”
If any money passed from the city to the school system, it was a nominal amount, he said.
Councilwoman Shari Barr asked how much the apartments will rent for, since Gross described the development as creating affordable housing for seniors. Monthly rents for one-bedroom units will range from about $485 to the “mid-500s,” and rents for two-bedroom units from the mid-500s to mid-600s, he said.
Planned amenities include an on-site laundry, an exterior gathering area and a community building with available computers and a furnished exercise center.
“From a cost utilization for urban planning, this is a textbook case of trying to take an asset that a community’s got and using it as a tool for redevelopment that meets the needs,” Gross said.
He will should hear again, late this fall, whether the tax credits are approved.
“We’re very excited, very appreciative of the city’s willingness to work with us to help us in our scoring with a lease, and we’re very confident that this year we’ll be awarded,” Gross told the city officials.