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City, county, BOE back stadium-centered TAD
But agreements hinge on grocery store decision by Dec. 31
Tormenta stadium rendering
This rendering from the Old Register Road Redevelopment Plan shows the planned Tormenta soccer stadium complex from The Clubhouse parking lot. The "grocery store" shopping center would be beyond the stadium near Veterans Memorial Parkway.

Three local governing boards unanimously approved the Old Register TAD last week to fund road construction and other infrastructure projects required for the planned Tormenta FC soccer stadium and surrounding commercial development, including foremost a grocery store.

In fact, the intergovernmental agreement makes the whole thing contingent on the grocery store.

Statesboro City Council’s vote the morning of Aug. 7 was key because the city is the “redevelopment agency” creating the TAD, or tax allocation district. But the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners later that day and the Board of Education on Thursday joined an intergovernmental agreement that also commits their property tax revenue gains in the district after Dec. 31 to public infrastructure for the project.

Centered on The Clubhouse family entertainment center and an area between it and Veterans Memorial Parkway where Tormenta’s 5,000-seat pro soccer stadium complex is planned, the district will encompass almost 290 acres.  Also envisioning businesses along the outside of the parkway from the Old Register Road intersection to a proposed extension of Akins Boulevard, the plan was presented as $160.5 million in potential private investment in search of an estimated $4.75 million in public spending, mostly for roads.

“We’ve got the support of the three taxing entities,” South Georgia Tormenta FC President Darin Van Tassell said Thursday evening. “This sends a pretty clear signal to the grocery store group, so there’s that piece, as well as we now start preparing to develop the Old Register Road area. It’s an exciting day for Statesboro.”

He had just watched the Board of Education vote its 8-0 approval for the agreement.

Van Tassell and his wife, who own The Clubhouse, and at least eight other investors own the Tormenta franchise. This is the core of a larger group that owns the investment area proposed for the TAD, and which proposes most of the commercial development, including at least one and potentially two 110-bed hotels, some restaurants, a bank, a movie theater and some professional office spaces and loft apartments.

Darin Van Tassell
Darin Van Tassell

Regional grocer

But an exception to the direct if partly visionary planning by the Tormenta group is the  41,000-square-foot grocery store and some smaller businesses in a shopping center proposed for the field south of Veterans Memorial Parkway and east of Old Register Road at their intersection. A “regional grocery store chain,” as Van Tassell describes it, has contracted to buy the corner tract.

“I can tell you they have until the end of the year, but I think it will be sooner rather than later,” he said Thursday when asked when there will be an announcement about the grocery store.

In fact, after Van Tassell described TAD-funded development of public roads as a necessary condition for the grocery store being built, the three elected boards made a decision by a grocery store company a requirement for the TAD’s existence.

The intergovernmental agreement requires “commencement” of the grocery store project by Dec. 31 and defines this as the grocery store operator issuing “an approval letter indicating its intention to locate such grocery store within the Old Register TAD.”

A further passage states that if that doesn’t happen, the inclusion of county and school system property taxes in the TAD “shall automatically terminate and the City shall be obligated to dissolve, by resolution of the City, the Old Register TAD as of December 31, 2018.”

Otherwise, that is the date the TAD increment funding would be established, based on property values at the end of 2018. Beginning Jan. 1, revenue gained from any new construction and rising appraisals in the district would be directed to the infrastructure projects there. But revenue from tax on the previously existing values would continue to go to the city, county and school board for their regular budgets.

Both Bulloch County Attorney Jeff Akins and Statesboro City Attorney Cain Smith confirmed Monday that the intergovernmental agreements make the TAD’s existence dependent on the grocery store decision.

“We discussed it and everybody was agreeable to that provision,” Akins said.

Smith said the county and the BOE would not have been on board without this provision but that he didn’t recall there being any resistance to it from city officials, either.

 

Mostly for roads

The TAD funding could be used for other public infrastructure needed for the project, such as water or sewer mains. But Van Tassell has estimated that 90 to 95 percent of the proposed public funding will be for road work. Some widening along Old Register Road is proposed. A new connector road, paralleling Veterans Memorial Parkway on the other side of the grocery store shopping center, is proposed to run from Old Register Road to an extension of Akins Boulevard.

Right now, Akins Boulevard is the main entrance to Georgia Southern University inside the parkway. The extension, to be funded by the university, would be on the other side of the parkway, where it would also lead to the university’s proposed South Campus, currently accessed from Lanier Drive. The university has purchased property for the Akins extension and has recently been developing a connecting street in the style of the boulevard in the Aruba Avenue area.

The “bottom line is that public infrastructure improvement eventually has to be done anyway in order to conform with GSU's existing and ongoing extension of Aruba Avenue regardless of the funding source,” Smith said Monday. “However, the issuance of TAD revenue bonds made possible by the inclusion of county and board increments allows the improvements to proceed much more quickly than they would have otherwise.”

The TAD plan authorizes the city to issue tax allocation bonds or obtain loans to be repaid with the TAD funds, but limits the bond funds to public infrastructure spending in the defined district.

As added security, the agreements also provide that if TAD revenues fell short, the property owners within the same area could be assessed a “special service district” tax to repay the bonds. This would be a tax on the owners proposing the new development.

 

Wagner reassured

When Van Tassell first presented the plan to the Board of Education, District 1 BOE member Cheri Wagner said she had researched the use of tax allocation districts elsewhere in Georgia and had concerns. She particularly questioned wording that appeared to allow any “additional revenue” to be used for other infrastructure projects.

But the agreements restrict the projects to those needed to support the proposed development in the district and call for the TAD to end as soon as the revenue it produces repays any debt for the infrastructure. After the school board’s attorneys helped draw up the agreement, Wagner supported the TAD.

“Mr. Van Tassell did a great job in showing how the money is going to come back, and taxpayer money is being utilized just to put in roads and infrastructure, and then the long-term return on it clearly will be a benefit,” Wagner said after Thursday’s meeting.

Van Tassell also told the board that, since the school system receives two cents in local sales tax on every dollar, it stands to gain more from the increased retail trade than it would temporarily give up in property taxes.

 

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

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