City Council this week approved tearing down two structures over 50 years old, one a commercial building and the other a house, under different owners in Statesboro's otherwise protected downtown district.
AgSouth Farm Credit, expanding its corporate headquarters, will now tear down the so-called Darley Building at 4 East Vine St. While constructing a new training, meeting and employee building one block back from its front offices on South Main Street, AgSouth had used the Darley Building for some temporary offices.
After the building is removed, AgSouth will create a central greenspace bracketed on three sides by its corporate buildings, as shown in plans unveiled in 2016. AgSouth's courtyard, opening toward Vine Street, will face existing parking and park areas, called Charlie Olliff Square, owned by Synovus, formerly the Sea Island Bank.
"We're here for an exciting day," attorney Bob Mikell, representing AgSouth, told City Council on Tuesday. "This is kind of the culmination of something that has gone on for the last several years, the relocation of AgSouth's corporate campus to downtown Statesboro."
The permit for the Darley Building will be the last demolition approval needed, he said. Under previous permission from City Council, AgSouth's contractors removed three brick warehouses, dating from 1906 and 1908, to make room for the new building.
Tying together the three buildings of the AgSouth headquarters, the landscaped central courtyard "will be potentially used for farmers' markets and other things that the community can benefit from," Mikell said.
City Planning and Development Director Frank Neal specifically mentioned monthly First Friday events sponsored by the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority as one potential use. The DSDA's Main Street Farmers Market, held on Saturdays from April through November, currently uses the Synovus parking area.
The AgSouth courtyard also helps fulfill the need "for more greenspace and visually appealing areas in our downtown core," identified in the city's comprehensive plan, Mikell said.
"It also brings new jobs to Statesboro, as well as it helps farmers get the financing they need to provide the food and fiber that we all enjoy," he said.
The consolidation of AgSouth's headquarters to Statesboro has added about 20 jobs here. In December, when the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce saluted the company as 2017 Business of the Year, AgSouth CEO Pat Calhoun said that of the farmer-owned financial cooperative's 250 employees, about 65 were now in Statesboro, with a few more on the way.
AgSouth Chief Financial Officer Bo Fennell also spoke Tuesday, thanking the council for acting on the request.
"We are really looking forward to finalizing this complex," said Fennell, who was named to his current role in January. "As y'all know, we've relocated our headquarters, and I'm actually newer to the company than the construction project is, but we're just extremely excited about the whole thing."
Statesboro's Zoning Ordinance prohibits tearing down intact buildings more than 50 years old in the downtown district without a finding of necessity by City Council. The city planning and development staff did not make a recommendation, but issued a report finding that the structure at 4 East Vine "is not a site of natural or aesthetic interest that contributes to the cultural or historical development of the City of Statesboro," and is not a rare architectural example or known to be associated with a historic person or event.
However, the staff report noted that the same applicant had already torn down three warehouses that contributed to the East Vine Warehouse and Depot District's historic status and that the property is adjacent to the old post office, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
What the city counted as three warehouses previously torn down looked like two, with a smaller warehouse adjoining one of the larger ones. The old post office is also part of AgSouth's complex.
AgSouth Farm Credit purchased the Darley Building in 2016 from Frederick Bryan Darley Jr. Counted as two buildings measuring 2,880 and 2,400 square feet, the masonry and wood-frame structure occupied 0.28 acre, according to Bulloch County tax assessors' records. The tax document gives the original construction year as 1920 but the "effective" construction year as 1985. Mikell said he thought that "any historical character ... was taken" when the previous owner completely reworked the building in 1985, adding stucco on the sides.
City Council unanimously approved the demolition permit.
14 W. Inman
Also unanimous, a permit was approved for the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority to tear down a single-family home it owns at 14 W. Inman St. The wooden house was one of four the DSDA purchased around the intersection of Inman and Walnut streets for use in its Homes for Heroes program. This was originally aimed at rehabilitating older houses for sale on favorable terms to public employees such as police officers and firefighters.
So far the DSDA has renovated one house, now nearly complete, but removed another and replaced it with a new house with help from the Home Builders Association of Statesboro. The new home is now owner-occupied.
"We did make a strong effort in trying to preserve homes," DSDA Executive Director Allen Muldrew told the mayor and council. "We really believe in that very strongly in the development authority, and we did do one, but it was extremely expensive, and it was in the best shape of all of them."
The house at 14 W. Inman has sat vacant for 12 to 15 years, and residents of the neighborhood have identified abandoned properties as a major concern, he said.
Neal called the house, which dates from 1943, "pretty badly deteriorated inside and out" and showed photos supporting this opinion. The staff report again made no formal recommendation on the demolition request, but found no cultural or historical significance other than the house's age.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.