By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Downtown TAD Committee recommends $50,000 grant for The Garage fitness center
Business will relocate, remodeling former West Main car shop, expected to yield increase in taxable value
The Garage - TAD
Attorney Chris Gohagan, left, and The Garage fitness center owner Christina Gipson, right, present her request for Tax Allocation District funding to the Statesboro Downtown TAD Committee during its Monday, July 8, meeting. (AL HACKLE/staff)

The city-county advisory committee for Statesboro’s Downtown Tax Allocation District met Monday and approved a $50,000 TAD grant recommendation to assist with relocation and expansion of The Garage, a fitness center specializing in group classes.

City Council will have the final say, possibly next week.

Christina Gipson, business owner of The Garage, plans to move the business from its current location in a leased building at 61 East Main St. to a building she is buying and plans to renovate at 202 West Main St.

Aptly or maybe ironically, although the East Main location wasn’t previously an actual garage, the 202 West Main property was until now Automotive Solutions of Statesboro, literally an auto repair shop.

The Garage - TAD
This is how 202 West Main Street looked Tuesday, July 9, as Automotive Solutions of Statesboro. (JIM HEALY/staff)

Gipson sat beside local attorney Chris Gohagan in the City Hall council chambers Monday afternoon, as Gohagan made The Garage’s pitch to the TAD committee. He showed slides of 202 W. Main as it is, in his words, a “dated … utilitarian building … used largely for storage and for office space and to work on cars” and then showed SketchUp renderings of the planned remodeled building.

“And once Ms. Gipson is done with it, this is what it’s going to look like, and with the help of TAD, it will be a considerably beautified and much more vibrant piece of property,” Gohagan said. “It’s going to contribute to foot traffic in our downtown area and it’s going to have an effect on neighboring properties to the extent that more people will be visiting this property on a daily basis.”

As shown in the renderings, a single, open exercise floor will occupy much of the interior, behind smaller rooms on the front end, including a lobby and office, storage, lockers and showers.

The Garage - TAD
This is a rendering or how 202 West Main Street is supposed to look after renovations are completed to make it the new location of The Garage fitness center. (Courtesy of The Garage)

The exterior will remain simple, with a large “The Garage” sign and gear-and-barbell logo on the exterior wall toward the parking area, which will have a porous “crush and run” gravel surface and provide 24 parking spaces, up from 17 currently. A sign for the fitness center will also replace the Automotive Solutions sign on a pole near the street. Some rollup garage doors will be retained.

The building measures 3,750 square feet, and Gipson said it will provide about one-third more room than her current, leased location.

In addition to added parking, some of the exterior will be reworked as green space for outdoor fitness classes, Gohagan said.

The requested $50,000 TAD grant amounts to roughly 10% of the total project cost, now estimated at $505,000, he said.

Specifically, the $50,000, according to the attorney, will be used for signage, sitework including clearing and grading, the parking lot, exterior lights and painting and a tree plan.

Based on expected property tax revenue growth from the improvements of at least $2,500 a year, the project should repay the local governments in at most 20 years, Gohagan said. That estimate is based on current valuation plus cost of improvements, and the actual new appraisal could result in an annual increment closer to $3,500, he said.

He cited the goals and criteria for TAD funding of projects under the Georgia Redevelopment Powers Law and the city’s TAD Ordinance.

“Certainly this committee is very familiar with the efforts that have been made to revitalize all of downtown, but specifically this section of West Main, heading over into the West District. …,” Gohagan said. “We believe that this project is another step toward that end goal.”


EPD testing costs

For a land disturbance permit, the location required more than the usual amount of soil testing, Gohagan noted. In addition to standard Phase I testing, Phase II limited soil and groundwater investigation, including digging and sampling, were done by a licensed environmental engineering group for submission to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

“This site has been used for a number of years as an automotive shop,” he told the committee. “This site has a number of environmental considerations that have to be overcome before it can be developed for the proposed purpose. That has added considerably to the cost of this project.”

Much of the additional testing was actually required because of expected leaching of soil contaminants from a nearby property, he said. But beyond the removal of soil that was tested, no problem has been identified requiring a cleanup, Gohagan said after the meeting.

The environmental work, which Gipson had to pay for before obtaining financing for the renovation, added more than $55,000 to the cost, her attorney said.


Moving ahead

Making the improvements as planned “very likely is not possible for this owner without the support of the TAD, a huge reason for that being the environmental cost incurred to ensure that the property is safe,” Gohagan said.

Since the TAD board voted 3-0 to recommend the grant, Statesboro City Council is expected to receive the recommendation for a vote during its 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 16, meeting.

Meanwhile, Gipson was scheduled to close on the purchase of 202 West Main on Wednesday, July 9. Her lease on the 61 East Main building expired July 1, but the landlord is letting her keep the business there for up to two extra months while the new location is renovated, she said Tuesday.

She started looking for a new location a year ago and said she has had 202 West Main St. under contract since November.

“All of the environmental inspections and things like that kind of slowed down the move,” Gipson said.

The Garage opened four years ago, in July 2020, with Gipson as the director but with FIT Statesboro owner Jason Wolfe also owning The Garage as an adjunct to his business. After relocating to East Main, Gipson bought in as a partner after about a year, and became sole owner of The Garage about two years ago.

Currently, The Garage has about 55 members, down from a typical 75-80, and a one-time peak of 125, Gipson told the TAD Committee. But she plans to focus on new growth once in the West Main facility.

“We’ll have more space to work with, which means we can bring in more people in the classes, and our classes are very diverse, our people are very diverse and welcoming,” she said Tuesday.


Rarely meets

Meetings of the Downtown TAD Committee are rare. Another item on the agenda was approval of previous meeting minutes from July 25, 2023.

“We seem to meet once a year,” the chairman, Doug Lambert, observed.

Although the Downtown Tax Allocation District – sometimes called the South Main TAD or Blue Mile TAD – was established by Statesboro City Council for a growth increment of city property tax in 2018, it later received a commitment of a partial county tax increment from the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners.

So the commissioners, as well as City Council, appoint members to the committee. Its approvals of funding requests are only recommendations to City Council, but under the city-county agreement, the council cannot fund a project unless it is first recommended by the committee.

Member Scott Marchbanks made the motion, Wayne DeLoach seconded, and Kendria Lee joined the “yes” vote. Lisa Deloach was away, and Bill Herring, a county-appointed member, resigned earlier this year and has yet to be replaced.

City Finance Director Cindy West was away, so the committee did not receive a financial update. One year ago, at the close of the previous fiscal year on June 30, 2023, the South Main TAD Fund contained $1,536,111 and had $240,000 in accounts payable for other projects, for an available balance of $1,296,111.

The district does not collect a special tax, but gains in city property tax revenue, from growth and inflation since it was created, are set aside for the TAD fund. The county government’s contribution matches the city’s increment as long as the city’s tax rate does not exceed the county’s.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter