Statesboro City Council voted Tuesday to commit nearly $1 million to a pair of Georgia Southern University projects that representatives believe will benefit the region.
Following lengthy discussions in a morning meeting at City Hall, council agreed to purchase a vacant downtown building for the expansion of GSU City Campus/Entrepreneur Zone (E-Zone), and pledge $500,000 to help facilitate a nearly $7 million Shooting Sports Education Center at the university.
The building — a long-abandoned Yard and Haus location on East Main Street — will be purchased from Farmers & Merchants Bank for $420,000.
Acquiring the site guarantees a location for a Fabrication Lab and Innovation Center that Georgia Southern administration plans to add to the school’s downtown operation.
The expansion is contingent on a nearly $1 million grant for which Georgia Southern has applied.
“You have to take a chance on the building in case we get the grant,” said Allen Muldrew, the executive director of Main Street Statesboro/Downtown Statesboro Development Authority. “This will allow for an expansion in services for the (Downtown Campus and E-Zone), which will service not only downtown but the entire region. The idea is to provide a place for prospective business owners to develop their ideas and benefit this area with new jobs and products.”
Dominique Halaby, the director of Georgia Southern’s Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development, said he is optimistic about receiving the grant — having spoken with people familiar with the process.
He said an expansion to the facility would allow for design and manufacturing capabilities that would turn business ideas into reality. The complex would include “3-D printing machines, manufacturing equipment, various computer systems and more,” he said.
“It would serve primarily as a venue to allow for entrepreneurs, business owners and anyone with an interest in creating a new product, a place with resources to do it,” Halaby said. “People can come in with an idea and leave with something tangible that can be marketed and taken to the market place. “The idea is to foster and support companies than can create new products and job opportunities for our region.”
If the grant is awarded, the building could be functional by next spring, Halaby said.
About Tuesday’s vote, Councilman Phil Boyum said: “One thing you hear from people in the city is that we need more jobs. This is an opportunity for us to leverage some money and possibly receive a grant to stimulate economic development. We’re hoping this will create jobs, help continue the improvement of downtown, and spur on long-term economic development.”
Shooting Sports Education Center
Council voted earlier this year to increase the city’s Hotel/Motel tax by 1 percent — the increase was passed at the state level and is awaiting the governor’s signature — to generate additional revenue for projects that promote and support tourism.
Following several presentations from Georgia Southern staff, councilmen agreed that a shooting sports education center at the university would be the best use of the new money — and possibly revenue from either Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax dollars or the General Fund.
A majority of council voted to provide a requested $500,000 to help construct the Georgia Southern facility.
“By providing the half-million dollar investment on our part, we enable (Georgia Southern’s center) to become an Olympic-level, fantastic facility,” Councilman Will Britt said. “The center will bring in some tourist dollars from people staying here for tournaments.”
According to Georgia Southern University, the complex will feature a 16-lane indoor firearms range and a 16-lane archery range, plus an Olympic-class outdoor archery range. Measuring more than 28,000 square feet, the building will also include classrooms and coaches’ offices. It will be located near the corner of U.S. Highway 301 South and the Veterans Memorial Parkway, between the highway and Old Register Road.
A grant through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources will fund $3.3 million of the project costs.
University and DNR officials say the center will offer recreation opportunities for students and the public, as well as providing a site for state, regional and national competitions.
According to Britt, Georgia Southern President Brooks Keel has guaranteed access to the facility to local police and area groups — including Boys Scouts, Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County and the Statesboro-Bulloch Recreation Department— for training and educational purposes.
Boyum was the lone dissenter in the vote (Councilman Travis Chance was absent) because that guarantee has not been officially agreed upon and recorded in any memorandum of understanding or contract.
“There is absolutely no doubt that a shooting range on campus will be a benefit to this community,” Boyum said. “However, in the past, the city has entered into these amorphous, handshake deals that have come back to bite us. The reason I voted against it is: there was no defined agreement stating what we get for the money. I thought there needed to be someone on council that voiced that concern. We need to be cautious.”
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.