Nearly five months ago, the America's Best Communities (ABC) competition announced Statesboro as one of eight finalists for a $3 million grand prize. The ABC competition is sponsored by Frontier Communications, DISH, CoBank and The Weather Channel.
I sat down this past week with Keely Fennell, Darron Burnette, Bob Mikell and Allen Muldrew, members who are all on the ABC/Blue Mile steering committees, to get an update on their progress.
I wanted to see what we can expect on "The Blue Mile" over the next few months and how the community can help. The Blue Mile is the one mile stretch of South Main Street that connects the entrance of Georgia Southern University with downtown.
"We want to let the community know that this process is moving along," Fennell said. "We have organized eight committees who are all working together to push this project forward as expeditiously as possible. There are tons of details that have to be worked out, from surveying, storm water upgrades, utility enhancements, education and negotiations with existing businesses and properties owners just to name a few. Even though you may not see construction activity daily, that does not mean we are sitting still on the project."
The committee is using the $100,000 awarded in April, plus the $50,000 awarded in the quarterfinal round along with a $15,000 required local commitment provided by the Averitt Center and the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority to leverage other grants, commitments and investments in the project.
"This is easily a $10-million dollar project and it could takes years to complete every part of it," said Mikell, a local attorney. "However, our goal is to utilize the funds in place and focus on bringing other investors to the table with us. There are lots of ways local businesses, industries and individuals can invest in the project financially and physically.
"One easy thing that everyone can do is shop and dine along the Blue Mile as much as possible. When you do, post an image on all your social media outlets and encourage others to join you in supporting the Blue Mile project. Tagging your images #borobluemile and #ABC8 will help us gain exposure outside of the market, also. If you want to contribute in any way to the project please reach out to steering committee member Phyllis Thompson and her team at the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce."
Several groups have stepped up in a big way already. Trip Addison at GSU and Chuck Perry with EMC engineering are energized about the project and have helped lead the way in bringing others to the table and in supporting and creating enthusiasm for the project. In addition, the Georgia DOT has engaged in the project along with Georgia Power.
The city, working through the Development Authority, has created incentives for new and existing business in the Blue Mile business district and Sea Island Bank has developed financing incentives to encourage investment in the project as well.
"We have matching façade grants up to $2,500 that create an incentive for existing businesses to restore their buildings," said Muldrew, who is director of the Development Authority. "For new businesses, we also can waive fees for Occupational Taxes and administrative fees for the first year of operation, building permit fees up to $1,000, fees for initial connection of Natural Gas, initial tap fees including but not limited to water, sewer, fire and irrigation taps up to $25,000 and alcohol license fees for the initial year of operation. For renovation, rehabilitation or construction of residential structures to include lofts and single family residences within the district we will also waive the building permit, natural gas and tap fees as described above plus the demolition permit fees."
Burnette, who is CEO and president of Sea Island Bank, explained the bank's financial incentives, which are aimed at properties within Statesboro's defined Downtown Business and Blue Mile District.
"New Construction and renovation projects must meet the standards of the city's architectural guidelines. The maximum loan is $399,000 with a maximum 10-year term. Minimum equity is 10 percent with a loan-to-value of 90 percent. The current interest rate is 3.99 percent. All other small business underwriting requirements are applicable, the only exception to the policy is the LTV."
The incentives have made a big difference in encouraging investors to enter the Blue Mile corridor and adjoining district. With the communities' enthusiastic support, we will continue to see this project moving ahead and positioning the committee to bring home the $3 million prize in April 2017.
We are working with the committee to give regular updates as part of our Business Tuesday section, so you can track the progress in restoring our Blue Mile.
Please email DeWayne at firstname.lastname@example.org or give him a call at (912) 489-9499.