In actions affecting the Blue Mile redevelopment district, Statesboro City Council on Tuesday backed negotiations to lease land for a dog park and authorized a letter seeking a Georgia Department of Transportation grant for intersection and drainage improvements.
Negotiations advanced by the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority seek to place a fenced park for enjoyment by dogs and their humans on land owned by the railroad company Norfolk Southern. The space extends from Cherry Street to Grady Street between the railroad and the Blind Willie McTell Trail. Deputy City Manager Robert Cheshire explained the city’s need to be involved.
“The leases would be in the city’s name,” he told the council. “DSDA would pay the annual lease itself. Any liability insurance would be as a rider on the city’s insurance. The city would provide a water tap, and then we would provide basic maintenance, which is trash pickup and repairs.”
Cheshire said “leases” because the DSDA also wants to lease a separate area, from East Main Street north along the railroad tracks about halfway to Hill Street, to be cleaned up as a green space. But the dog park is the main focus.
“We’ve been talking for years about a dog park,” said DSDA Executive Director Allen Muldrew. “There’s been a lot of interest. I get emails from time to time hoping, wishing, asking about it.”
The proposed site is at least the third one that has been considered. Site-specific discussions have been underway for eight months and involved two railroad companies, Muldrew reported. Norfolk Southern owns both parcels but wanted a letter of approval from the shortline operator, Georgia Southern Railway.
That has been obtained and all other known conditions met, he said.
“They haven’t signed the lease, but we are so close that if they did sign it, we’ve got a group that’s already ready to go and start working on the dog park,” Muldrew told City Council. “So, if they give us the green light, we want to go ahead and start.”
The proposed site became available after Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County moved its ReStore and headquarters out of the warehouse along the railroad at Cherry Street, he said in an interview. The land for the dog park does not include the warehouse, which is being used by another business and has a different owner, but Habitat used part of the railroad’s land for access and parking.
Part of it is currently fenced, but part is also overgrown. Teenagers in Youth Leadership Bulloch, a Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce program, have raised money for new fencing, Muldrew said. The adult Leadership Bulloch class has also taken the dog park as a class project.
Anytime a meeting is called about the dog park, potential volunteers show up, he said.
“So I would think that we’d get a lot of community involvement in building it out, hopefully with no expense to anyone to do that,” Muldrew said.
The council voted unanimous support for the negotiations. In an interview, Muldrew said the annual rent may be around $1,000 for the two spaces together.
Request to DOT
Not directly related, the council authorized Cheshire to complete a letter to the Georgia Department of Transportation seeking a grant of as-yet unknown size for improvements on or near South Main Street. As required local “skin in the game,” he plans to cite more than $540,000 already spent or available.
South Main is the section of U.S. Highway 301 now also known as the Blue Mile. The Blue Mile plan for the area’s redevelopment, including a dog park and other public amenities, garnered Statesboro’s finalist status in the America’s Best Communities competition.
Mayor Jan Moore introduced the grant support request as part of her comments in the “other business” part of Tuesday’s meeting. Asking for a motion for something not specifically on the agenda was unusual, she admitted.
“It just so happens that somebody caught somebody’s ear in the last few days, and there may be an opportunity for us to get what we hope to be significant funding for a couple of projects in Statesboro,” Moore said. “To do that, however, we have to have a little skin in the game, too.”
A 30 percent match is often required of local governments for DOT-funded projects, Cheshire said, but added that he hopes the state would provide more of the funding in this instance.
At this point, Cheshire and Moore said, they do not know what sum they are trying to match.
All in a Blue Mile
The letter will cite $46,500 paid for preliminary engineering and cost estimates on the Blue Mile Plan improvements, $350,000 for water and sewer improvements along South Main budgeted in the city’s capital improvement plan for fiscal year 2018, and $150,000 earmarked for road improvements from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax authorized in 2013, Cheshire said.
The $46,500 is from Statesboro’s $150,000 winnings as an America’s Best Communities quarterfinalist and finalist. The $15,000 provided by the DSDA as a partial local match required by the contest was also mentioned during the meeting, but Cheshire later said he will not include it in the letter.
The possibility of one of the three top ABC prizes of $3 million, $2 million or $1 million provided by the four sponsor corporations as another funding source wasn’t mentioned. Winners are to be announced April 19.
Major improvements city officials would like to see the state help fund include drainage structures for one section of South Main that has none and a redesign of the Fair Road intersection, Cheshire said.
Redesigning and replacing the intersection of Georgia Highway 67 and U.S. 301 was one of many projects identified in a list more than 20 years ago, in 1994, Cheshire said. Over the years, most of the other projects were completed, but this one was always pushed to the future.
“I think we need to push hard, as part of this South Main improvement, to fix that intersection,” Cheshire said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.