City Council on Tuesday authorized the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority to apply for a $2 million grant for an expansion of Georgia Southern University’s downtown City Campus involving a DSDA-owned building.
The grant authorization and an unrelated permission for the Housing Authority of Valdosta to finance the renovation of about 60 apartments in Statesboro were two in the handful of business items the council handled in its first meeting of 2020. Shorter than most, the meeting began with the swearing in of new council members Paulette Chavers, Venus Mack and Shari Barr.
If awarded, the grant to the DSDA from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, or EDA, will require an expenditure of at least $500,000 by the city.
An outreach center of the university’s Parker College of Business, the Business Innovation Group, or BIG, is based at City Campus, sometimes now called the City Center, and directs its use. BIG provides classes and information for businesses and makes rentable, shared workspace and product-development equipment available to entrepreneurs.
“We’re very fortunate in being able to assist the community, there’s a certain need for our services, and we want to be in a better position to satisfy that need. That’s going to require some additional space,” Dr. Dominique Halaby, director of the Business Innovation Group, said in an interview Wednesday.
GS City Campus was founded in 2011 as a joint initiative of the university, the city and the DSDA. The campus currently encompasses a city-owned building at 62 East Main St. and the largest portion of another at 58 East Main St.
With the proposed expansion, the City Campus would grow to fill more of 58 East Main and also take in the entire, currently vacant, 11,970-square-foot building that has the address 64 East Main but sits closest to Vine Street.
Now, Phase 3
The proposed project is Phase 3 in the creation of City Campus, and would include more classroom space, a community training center and expansion of the Business Incubator.
A small illustration given the mayor and council suggests a new front for the L-shaped building. It is shown facing Railroad Street and East Main near Savannah Avenue with “Statesboro Training Center” lettering and an “Innovation Hub” marquee.
“The partnership with DSDA means city residents get a ‘mini-civic center’ at a fraction of the cost to taxpayers, while the relationship with Georgia Southern BIG means that overhead and routine maintenance and operations will be handled by the university,” the project summary states.
The Downtown Statesboro Development Authority purchased 64 East Main about two years ago, said DSDA Executive Director Allen Muldrew. It once housed a business called the Plunderosa, specializing in “plunder” from garage sales and auctions.
“Since we own the building, the money would actually come to the DSDA to do the improvements,” Muldrew said. “We’d be getting money from the feds to improve our property for use through Georgia Southern’s Business Innovation Group.”
If approved, the grant would be the third time City Campus has benefited from EDA funding. Phase 2, completed in 2016, added the Fabrication Lab and Business and Arts Incubator.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have built a wonderful relationship with EDA, and when the opportunity presented itself where they’re looking from projects to support and to enhance the jobs and business starts across the country, we’re on their docket of kind of favorite projects, so we were being encouraged to apply,” Halaby said.
It remains a competitive application process, but he feels good about Statesboro’s prospects, he added.
Neither Halaby nor Muldrew spoke to the council Tuesday, but City Manager Charles W. Penny had sent the mayor and council a memo and a project summary. In the memo, Penny stated that the DSDA has the opportunity to apply for the grant because Bulloch County was included in a federal disaster declaration for Hurricane Michael.
As Halaby mentioned, disaster recovery funds channeled through the EDA are meant for job creation and economic redevelopment.
Penny also informed City Council that the city will need to provide at least $500,000, as this is considered a 4-to-1 match grant.
“Any time we can take one dollar and turn it into five dollars, it’s always a good opportunity,” Councilman Phil Boyum remarked.
He said it “would be a great thing for the city” to turn a building virtually unused for years into something to generate activity downtown, and Mayor Jonathan McCollar said he agreed. The vote authorizing the application was 5-0, on a motion from Boyum.
Halaby and Muldrew said the application was already being prepared Wednesday, and the Halaby said he hopes to receive an answer this summer.
Morris Heights overhaul
Council also unanimously approved a resolution permitting the Housing Authority of Valdosta to operate in Statesboro to the extent of financing a project by a company called LRC-Georgia 3. This company plans to renovate approximately 60 apartments in the subsidized Morris Heights complex around Morris Street.
City Attorney Cain Smith said the spending on improvements would amount to about $50,000 per apartment. That suggests an investment totaling around $3 million at Morris Heights.
Smith said the authorization would not create any debt for the city of Statesboro or affect its borrowing capacity.
The resolution refers to a Valdosta Housing Authority bond issuance not to exceed $21 million, and an attachment lists projects at apartment complexes in Dublin and Thomasville, as well as the one here.
New training role
In a meeting where there was applause for the new members upon their swearing in, Boyum, first elected in 2012, also received a round of applause, and compliments from the mayor.
Boyum was recently appointed to represent District 12 on the Georgia Municipal Training Board. The board provides guidance on training matters to the Georgia Municipal Association and the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
“One thing that we definitely want to celebrate with Councilman Boyum is the fact that he goes out and tries to get all the training possible, and that’s what I would definitely encourage every member up here to do,” McCollar said.