By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Food Bank site search continues after one land offer evaporates
County drops effort toward Dec. 30 grant deadline, but county-city ARPA commitments remain in play
Food Bank logo

After the potential offer of a donated site for a proposed county-built home for the Statesboro Food Bank fell through in mid-November, county staff members halted efforts to apply for a special $1 million Community Development Block Grant, or CDBG, award by a Dec. 30 deadline.

So, the Food Bank's hopes turn now to another round of possible grant funding at an undetermined later date. Up to 

$1 million in money already under local control remains available. This includes $500,000 the Bulloch County commissioners committed from federal funds already awarded the county under the American Recovery Plan Act, or ARPA, and Statesboro City Council's matching commitment of up to $500,000 of the city's ARPA money. But county officials hoped to match that total with $1 million from a CDBG, which ultimately is also federal money channeled through a state agency. 

Now, Food Bank Inc. volunteers and staff are back at the starting point looking for other possible sites, said Larry Colbert, president of the charity's board.

"We're hoping there may be a second round of those funds available and we could go that direction, but we just don't know just yet," he said Monday. "We at the Food Bank are trying to restructure some stuff, and we're going to need the public's help on any sites that are readily or economically available to have a place to move to."

Colbert, who retired as a battalion chief with the Statesboro Fire Department in 2011, has been a member of the Statesboro Food Bank's all-volunteer board for more than six years.

At this point the Food Bank is still operating out of one building and a portion of another on the old Julia P. Bryant School campus at the corner of Donnie Simmons Way and Stockyard Road. The school system has allowed the charitable organization to use this space for more than five years for $1 nominal annual rent.

But in March the Bulloch County Board of Education entered a contract to sell approximately 10.5 acres of the 15-acre old campus to Bill Gross, owner of Kingsland-based W.H. Gross Construction Company, for $400,000 plus the construction company's demolition and removal of two buildings on the third of the property the school district will keep.

Gross' purchase and proposed development of the site as a senior community called Bryant Landing, with 51 apartments in Phase I, would displace the Food Bank, eventually.

If Gross receives federal and state tax credits he applied for earlier this year to help fund the project, he could close on the purchase from the school board by this Dec. 31. If not, the sales contract gives him another year, until Dec. 30, 2022, to apply again for credits and complete the purchase. Either way, the sale is contingent on his receiving the tax credits for the senior housing development.

Gift didn't happen

At the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners meeting Nov. 16, commissioners unanimously approved moving forward with the $1 million grant application for the Food Bank building to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, or DCA. A proposed site and its current owner were identified in county documents.

This was a special round of CDBG grants supplied under the federal pandemic legislation, and the DCA was receiving grants specifically for food banks and food pantries.

But County Manager Tom Couch cautioned at that time that the suggested donation could fall through and that if that happened, county staff members would not be able to meet the application deadline, which Assistant County Manager Cindy Steinmann said was originally earlier but had been extended to Dec. 30.

The Statesboro Herald called a representative of the landowner and learned that the reported gift offer was far from a done deal. Then, on Nov. 18, Broni Gainous, as communications manager for the Board of Commissioners, issued a media alert stating that "after considerable effort, the deadline of December 30 to submit the grant application cannot be practically met."

She noted that a landowner had been considering donating a site to the county, which would then build the building and lease it to the Statesboro Food Bank.

"However, the CDBG has numerous time-sensitive processes to be followed that include public notices, intergovernmental reviews, establishing site control, and developing preliminary architectural plans," stated the release, which also included a quote from Couch.

More time needed

"We knew that meeting the deadline was to be an extraordinary challenge, with or without the property owner's consideration, because planning a project like this normally takes at least a year," Couch said. "As we went through the process, we began to realize that more time is needed to work out the type of land commitment involving multiple parties that the CDBG process requires for a fundable project."

Also on Nov. 16, Statesboro City Council unanimously approved an outline of uses for the city's $12.3 million share of ARPA funds, earmarking up to $500,000 to address "food insecurities," through the Food Bank project. The county's release stated that Couch was asking city and county officials to hold their commitments of ARPA funds "in abeyance in hopes of a new leveraged funding opportunity."

The county government had also selected an architectural firm to design the building. Goodwin Mills Cawood, or GMC, which has offices in Savannah, Augusta and other cities in the Southeast, was chosen, based on a scoring system, over one other firm that submitted qualifications, Steinmann said.

Temporary move?

In September, Gross said the Food Bank could remain at its current portion of the old school until late next spring, perhaps May or June. After that, his company could also allow the use of the old school's gymnasium, at the other end of the campus, as a temporary food bank location, he told the Statesboro Herald. The gym wouldn't become part of his planned development until the second phase, which he would not start for another year or two.

But the gym would not be large enough to serve both as the headquarters and distribution area for the Food Bank as well as provide sufficient storage area for food, Jodi Brannon, the Food Bank Inc. operations director, said Monday. 

"If you took everything we have in the Food Bank right now and put it over there, we wouldn't have any place to make up orders, to move in there," she said. "I don't know what the square footage is, but I would guess it's probably half of what we're using over here now."

So Brannon and Colbert said they are interested in offers or ideas for a temporary location, as well as a site for the permanent building. 

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter