Frontier Communications, lead sponsor of the America’s Best Communities competition in which Statesboro won the $1 million third prize earlier this year, saluted supporters of the Blue Mile redevelopment plan with a luncheon Wednesday downtown.
At The Hall on Vine, several Frontier regional executives met with Blue Mile Committee members, including representatives of organizations such as the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority, the Averitt Center for the Arts, the city government and Habitat for Humanity.
“We take pride in working in smaller communities and rural communities, and it’s our goal, it is our responsibility as a business partner, to make sure we do our part in contributing to making those communities better,” said Melanie Williams, Frontier’s senior vice president for operations in seven Southeastern states.
Frontier Communications, CoBank, Dish Network and the Weather Channel committed $10 million to the America’s Best Communities competition to promote development projects in rural communities in Frontier’s service areas across the United States. With the Blue Mile plan for the revitalization of South Main and surrounding neighborhoods, Statesboro in April won third place out of more than 350 communities that entered.
One year earlier, Statesboro had won $100,000 as one of eight finalists, after at first receiving $50,000 from a prize and sponsorship in the quarterfinal round. All the money is earmarked for projects affecting business and residential development and quality of life along the Blue Mile, or South Main Street, which is part of U.S. Highway 301.
The district also extends to neighborhoods on side streets.
Blue Mile homes
Marcus Toole, resource development coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County, noted that after building two houses in the Blue Mile district during the ABC competition, Habitat is now building a third there and has a fourth planned. Habitat homes go to first-time buyers of limited means who invest “sweat equity” work as well as qualifying for a loan.
Toole has also done “locally, a lot of public relations work, trying to get low-income people and critical people who live in the Blue Mile area understanding the project, understanding it a way that they don’t feel threatened by it, but also getting them involved,” he said.
One of the Habitat homeowners, Margaretta Patterson, is now a member of the Blue Mile Foundation board, Toole noted.
As Blue Mile volunteers around the room describe their roles, most of the usual leaders were there, including Darron Burnette and Keely Fennell who have long co-chaired the Blue Mile Committee, local attorney Bob Mikell and Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce President Phyllis Thompson, who were part of the team that made the first winning pitch before contest judges.
But some committee members not heard as often, including Toole and retired middle school teacher Joe Strickland, spoke up. Strickland said he got a “put your effort where your mouth is” call from Burnette last year after writing a letter published in the Statesboro Herald.
“I think it’s money well spent,” Strickland said of the ABC funds. “This group, one of our goals is to leverage that money. My dad was a farmer. He would start with some seed and some land nobody else wanted and turn it into things people wanted.”
Formed this spring, the Blue Mile Foundation Inc., with Fennell as president, now has control of the $1.12 million remaining prize money.
The foundation has formed a Greenspace Committee, working on ideas for parks and possibly an amphitheater, and a Statesboro Stars Committee, looking for lasting ways to celebrate historic and influential people with Statesboro connections. Other volunteers are involved in a Housing Committee, an Infrastructure Committee, a Business Retention and Recruitment Committee, a Signage Committee and a Marketing Committee.
Frontier’s Statesboro General Manager, Jaclyn Cason, who first informed other local people of the ABC competition two and a half years ago, gave the welcome Wednesday. Cason said she is encouraged by the forming of the foundation and other recent developments.
“We’re just really happy about all the success that we’ve had, the new businesses that are coming to South Main Street,” she said.
Big Boy Cookie held its grand opening two weeks ago, and 3 Tree Coffee Roasters recently expanded, Cason noted.
Williams said Statesboro’s effort “started with the right heart.”
“It doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with work, but it comes with the fact that you are doing what you’re doing not just for yourselves, but you’re doing it for your community’s future,” she said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.