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Foundation to handle Blue Mile winnings
But city will still control tax allocation district funds, Georgia DOT grant
Blue Mile 2

A nonprofit corporation, the Blue Mile Foundation Inc., has been created to receive the $1 million America's Best Communities third prize Statesboro won in April, plus more than $137,000 remaining in a city account from previous prizes and required sponsorships.

"After the final thing is done and the million dollars is won, there's really no reason for the city to continue to manage that money, and the foundation has been set up," Mayor Jan Moore said last week.

The foundation will use the money for purposes described in the Blue Mile Plan for the revitalization of the South Main Street corridor, organizers say. These include backing residential and retail development; upgrading and adding public spaces such as streetscapes, parks and potentially an amphitheater; and enhancing the arts, public events and "livability."

Blue Mile Committee co-chairs Darron Burnette and Keely Fennell said the foundation will seek to leverage the winnings with funding from other sources and by working with people who invest in the Blue Mile.

"Our money will be seed money," Burnette said. "Hopefully that million will grow to 2 million, 3 million."

The foundation is also seeking an investment broker for the cash and will meet June 14 to select one, he said.

Previous $165,000

Back in April 2015, Statesboro, as one of 50 quarterfinalist communities in the ABC competition, was awarded a $35,000 prize from national contest sponsors Frontier Communications, Dish Network, CoBank and the Weather Channel.

Additionally, communications cable company Anixter provided a $15,000 corporate sponsorship, Blue Mile Committee leaders recently explained. The Downtown Statesboro Development Authority, or DSDA, supplied a $15,000 required local cash match.

So, the total funding through the semifinals was $65,000. The recipient was actually the Averitt Center for the Arts, which had been called on to enter the contest on Statesboro's behalf. Only nonprofit corporations capable of receiving charitable contributions were eligible. But on Jan. 19, 2016, Statesboro City Council approved an agreement with the Averitt Center and the DSDA for the city to administer the winnings already received.

After Statesboro won $100,000 more as one of the eight America's Best Communities finalists named in April 2016, that money was also deposited into the city account. But the $1 million will now go to the Averitt Center and then to the new Blue Mile Foundation without passing through the city's coffers, Moore said last week.

Changing the MOU

By means of the January 2016 memorandum of understanding, or MOU, the city sought to ensure that proper accounting and purchasing procedures were followed, Moore said. The city also added the DSDA's $15,000 to the winnings and then contracted EMC Engineering Services Inc. for surveying and planning for a Blue Mile streetscape at a cost not to exceed $51,500.

But the ABC winnings are not really the city's to use, Moore said, and she wants the money to go to the Blue Mile Foundation before June 30, the end of the city's fiscal year. If the contest cash remained in the city's hands July 1 or later, it would show up in the city's accounting and audit procedures for another year.

"The Blue Mile Foundation has asked the city for an adjustment to that MOU saying now that the contest is over, we're going to take those funds and put them in this foundation," Fennell said.

Originally called the South Main Revitalization Committee, the group Fennell and Burnette lead formed more than a year before the ABC competition began.

But the Blue Mile Foundation Inc. is new. Its incorporation took effect April 20, according to the certificate signed by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Local attorney Laura Marsh did the legal work, but Phyllis Thompson, president of the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce, is listed as the new corporation's registered agent.

The certificate states that the foundation will be a 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofit. But other steps are required to secure the federal tax-exempt status.

"My understanding is, that not-for-profit designation takes some time to do, and we are in the process of doing that," Thompson said.

Thompson, Moore, Fennell and Burnette sat down for an interview last week on the ABC winnings and other funding sources for development projects around the South Main Street corridor. The city also provided a detailed record of the ABC funding that was deposited to and spent from its account.

The original transfer from the Averitt Center to the city was for $57,132 on May 18, 2016. Some payments to vendors had been made out of the original $65,000 before the city received the money into its account, said City Finance Director Cindy West.

As the city's spreadsheet shows, the largest expense from the winnings was the $34,300 actually paid to EMC Engineering. Other categorized expenses, rounded to the dollar, include $8,245 for public relations services, $7,257 for banners, $10,900 for the yet-to-be installed "Blind Willie" McTell statue and $1,155 for bank charges.

But the largest South Main Street project completed during the ABC competition was not funded from the contest winnings. Local donations entirely paid for the lighted Blue Mile gateway signs, near Georgia Southern University's entrance on South Main Street.

That project, which was valued at a little over $100,000 and garnered $137,000 in cash and in-kind donations, will be explored in detail in another story.

Another source of funds that were not ABC winnings was the Amazing Blue Mile Challenge, an "adventure race" used as a fundraiser. It took in $4,750 in sponsorships and entry fees but had $2,088 in expenses, netting $2,662.

The city-maintained Blue Mile account, as of May 12, had a balance of $137,688.

GDOT grant

Two major funding sources for improvements on or around the Blue Mile will remain under city control, with the state having a big say in one of them.

Earlier this year, the Georgia Department of Transportation committed $450,000 to projects such as sidewalk and street drainage improvements in the Blue Mile area. GDOT Commissioner Russell R. McMurry made the funding contingent on Statesboro winning one of the top three ABC prizes.

Because it is 70 percent state funding requiring a 30 percent local match, the grant should help fund improvements costing more than $642,000.

TAD funding

Statesboro voters in 2014 empowered the city to create tax allocation districts, and a TAD was subsequently created that includes much of the South Main corridor.

The TAD also encompasses other areas, branching north of the Blue Mile, west of it, and eastward along side streets as far as the Gentilly Square shopping center. The legislation sets aside property tax revenue generated by construction and growth in property values within the district for public projects there.

The TAD fund collected $21,082 in fiscal year 2016 and $73,688 in fiscal year 2017, for a total of $94,770 so far. But it will last up to 30 years, and the city could issue bonds to finance larger projects in anticipation of future revenue.

Under the law, only the city can control the TAD funding.

"The tax allocation district is a public financial instrument," Moore said. "It is literally taxpayer, property tax dollars, and it is in a separate account held by the city. Tax allocation districts have a set of laws and rules that are hard and true in how you handle that money."

But the Blue Mile Foundation, just like any private developer, could apply to the TAD advisory board for funding for eligible projects, she said. The board will make recommendations, but City Council will ultimately have to approve TAD projects.

"That, in my mind, is how these two things are going to work together," Moore said. "They're going to be garnering money on the private side, and we're going to be garnering money through the tax allocation district on the public side."

"I see that the pools of money are separate," Thompson said. "Some of the objectives overlap, but not all of the specifics do. But the goal for all of them is the same -"

"To better Statesboro and Bulloch County," Fennell interjected.

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



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