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GSU looks to establish downtown presence
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Georgia Southern University president Dr. Brooks Keel hopes to establish a university presence in downtown Statesboro in a partnership with the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/Herald File

   Georgia Southern University will have a downtown presence in Statesboro soon now that the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority has purchased a building right next to city hall.
       Earlier this month the DSDA purchased "The Galleria" from property owner Noel Burnsed for $750,000. "The Galleria" is a commercial retail building that sits just east of city hall that currently houses the PC Shop, Gallery of Frames and Harris & Barber tax services, which is in the former Heritage Bank downtown branch location.
       Allen Muldrew, executive director of the DSDA, said he hopes to turn the building into an entrepreneur center as well as a "City Campus" for Georgia Southern University. In addition, Muldrew said the city will use a portion of the building to expand one of its departments and the Averitt Center for the Arts may use the back portion of the building for prop and stage set storage.
       "We partnered with the city, economic development and the college as we were looking at an entrepreneur center," Muldrew said. "With the university's massive cutbacks, that has been modified, but we as a DSDA and the city are still committed to bringing the resources that the university needs to help form knowledge based business and an incubator system, as well as we're looking to retrofit (part of the building) for a city campus."
       Muldrew said he received a number of good ideas and support from GSU President Brooks Keel, who said one of the important roles a university the size of GSU has is economic development.
      "Part of economic development is helping the city grow and expand, helping business grow and expand and we feel very passionate that's what we should be doing," Keel said. "What better way to do that then to actually have the presence of Georgia Southern in the downtown area. It would allow our students an opportunity to have a place to go when they go downtown. It would draw students to the downtown area. We hope that will in turn draw additional businesses to the downtown area and over time you'll see a lot of spin-off develop from that. So we're really excited by what this means not only for our students but what it means for Statesboro as well."
      The DSDA's out of pocket costs to purchase the building included a $3,000 environmental impact review to check the building for hazardous materials like lead and asbestos, a commercial appraisal which cost $2,500 and some small closing costs. The DSDA was able to sign for a mortgage because the city backed up the loan in the event the DSDA was unable to meet payments.
      Most of the $750,000 mortgage will be paid for out of existing and future leases and the city will kick in some money from the general fund to pay for the space for the new I.T. department. Muldrew said the city is in need of some additional space for departments such as I.T. so expanding right next door to city hall seemed a natural progression. Also, if the Averitt Center can use the rear of the building for storage it would eliminate the $600 per month rental cost for the center's current storage facility.
       Keel said GSU students and faculty could assist start-up businesses getting established and help them come up with new entrepreneurial ideas and ways of doing business they may not have thought of themselves. He sees the possibility of a think tank with an environment where entrepreneurial ideas can spark, take root and grow.
      "The city council understands the importance of having Georgia Southern right in its city and Georgia Southern understands the importance of being part of a city and helping that city thrive," Keel said. "If Statesboro thrives Georgia Southern will thrive and vice versa. It's important to me that we do what we can to make sure the city takes off and goes the best it can."
      Bringing a little bit of Georgia Southern to downtown is important for the future viability of the heart of Statesboro said the DSDA director.
      "We're trying to bring all the puzzle pieces together," Muldrew said. "It's been a challenge but nonetheless I think it's going to be very successful."