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I-16 commerce park roads, TAD lanes take shape
Total TAD infrastructure cost approaching $16M after 5 years
TAD paving
A loader rolls along U.S. Highway 301 past the larger of two entrance roads, yet to be paved, to Southern Gateway Commerce Park. (AL HACKLE/staff)

Grading and other groundwork underway for several months along U.S. Highway 301 just south of Interstate 16 is the latest phase in Bulloch County's development of its original tax allocation district, or TAD, which features a new industrial park.

The paving, which will include two entrance roads into the industrial park plus acceleration-deceleration lanes on both sides of U.S. 301, could be completed in November, said Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch. At least that's what contractor R.B. Baker Construction had told him.

"They seem very confident that they'll be finished with their work in November," Couch said last week. "I can't say if that's optimistic or not, but if for any reason, weather or otherwise, it extended into the spring, I think we're still ahead of the schedule that we had."

The original goal, he said, was to have the road work completed by later in 2019.

About nine years ago, the county government and the Development Authority of Bulloch County purchased land for the 200-acre industrial park. Then in 2011, a majority of Bulloch County voters in a referendum granted the Board of Commissioners redevelopment powers allowing the creation of tax allocation districts, and the I-16 interchange TAD was established Dec. 31, 2012. The TAD includes about 1,800 acres, mostly private land, around the interchange.

Like two TADs more recently created by the city of Statesboro, the county's only TAD sets aside growth in property tax revenue from new construction or rising values after the effective date for projects to spur development within the district. It did not increase tax rates.

Close to $16M

To this point, roughly $16 million in public funds from Bulloch County, city of Statesboro and state of Georgia sources have gone into or are earmarked for development of the TAD area and the industrial park it encompasses. But so far, the TAD, which has landed no private development while lacking the road infrastructure, has netted no TAD-fund revenue to speak of.

"We've invested a lot of money to get it to this level that we've desired for many, many years, and honestly the first TAD dollar hasn't come in yet," Couch said. "But I think it's inevitable with the investment that's been made, and we always thought that it would take a lot of seed money."

The first infrastructure enhancement to the district was already underway five years ago. The city of Statesboro extended water and sewer several miles to the industrial park and stubbed out mains for both on the other three quadrants of the interchange. A water tower was installed in the industrial park and a sewer pumping station was added.

The city spent nearly $10 million on the project but was repaid $6 million by the county from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax bond revenue.

The remainder of the water and sewer cost was to be the city's investment toward future customers, and the city also extended a natural gas line to the area at its own expense.

Bulloch County's funding for the overall project has come from a $9 million bond sale authorized with the 2013 SPLOST referendum, the bonds being repaid from the sales tax.

While now attempting to use the last of the bond proceeds, the county government has obtained grants to maximize the effect, Couch said.

State grants

For the highway work and entrance roads, the county obtained a $1.5 million grant from the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank, an arm of the State Road and Tollway Authority.

The county government has also dedicated $1.5 million from the annual Local Maintenance Improvement Grant it receives from the Georgia Department of Transportation. This is about all the LMIG money Bulloch gets for a year, but it will be replaced for other projects by the new Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, Couch said. Voters approved the T-SPLOST in May, and it is now being collected.

The county also received some smaller GDOT grants, totaling so far about $88,000, for landscaping work in medians of the highway and interchange ramps.

"I'm not sure what the final bill will shake out at," Couch said of the roadwork. "I think it's going to be $5 million or $5.1 million, but it's safe to say that we got $3 million leverage from the Infrastructure Bank and the DOT, and nearly a hundred thousand dollars for landscaping improvements from the DOT."

Both industrial park access roads, designed for heavy trucks, are at least partly prepared but not paved at this point. The wider road, allowing four lanes, is at the Rocky Road entrance, farther from the interstate. On a plan it appears to extend about 800 yards, past the water tower to a cul-de-sac. The road with a narrower right of way, closer to the interstate, appears as two divided lanes extending about 200 yards into the property.

The idea is that these are the start of a road network that would be completed as private development projects arrive and their needs are known.

Another recent addition is lighting that illuminates the water tower, making it visible from the highways at night. 

Next: pad-ready

For the past several years, while the infrastructure has evolved, the Development Authority of Bulloch County has heard fairly steady interest from potential developers in the property it now calls Southern Gateway Commerce Park, said Development Authority CEO Benjy Thompson.

"It's been a little slow for the last handful of months, but I think that's more of a general trend that has nothing to do with us particularly, it's just kind of where projects are right now in communities like ours," he said last week.

The county government recently allocated another $1 million and the Development Authority has applied to the OneGeorgia Authority for $500,000 to do "mass site grading" of about one-third of the property accessible from the highway, Couch reported. This would allow creation of "pad ready" locations for industries.

"What we're planning to do, as this transportation project is finished up and as we do a little more work out at the site, is to do kind of a reboot of the property with our state partners," Thompson said.

In other words, the authority will update the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the power companies on the project's attractions and ask their help getting the word out.

The 30-year TAD has 24 years left to prove the investment was worth it.

"We're basically open for business when the market forces determine it will come, and that hopefully will generate the dollars we need for future improvements in the TAD as development occurs," Couch said. 

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

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