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More than $1.1 million ABC winnings now in hands of Blue Mile Foundation
Committees planning South Main area redevelopment projects
W Blue-Mile Averitt Check
With other leaders from both organizations, Blue Mile Foundation President Keely Fennell, at left of check, receives the $1.12 million in Americas Best Communities winnings presented by Averitt Center for the Arts President Burney Marsh. - photo by SPECIAL PHOTO/Averitt Center for the Arts

After receiving $1.12 million in America’s Best Communities winnings transferred from the Averitt Center last month, the new Blue Mile Foundation Inc. reports that planning for South Main Street redevelopment work is underway on several fronts.

“We are energizing our different committees, which are still moving with the direction of the Blue Mile plan that we implemented when we were competing in the ABC competition, and each individual committee has been busy in their different elements,” Blue Mile Foundation President Keely Fennell said Thursday.

Foundation members have 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.

The foundation now has its own website,

Information can be found there on “Eagles GATA Eat,” an effort of the Business Retention and Recruitment Committee. Discounts at Blue Mile eateries will be offered in exchange for same-day ticket stubs from Georgia Southern home football, basketball, baseball and volleyball home games from Oct. 1 through May 30.


No windfall for Averitt

When Statesboro entered the America’s Best Communities, or ABC, competition two and a half years ago, a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation was required as the applicant. Although the city of Statesboro agreed to administer the winnings as fiscal agent during the contest, neither the city nor the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority, also involved since the early planning, was eligible to receive an award of tax-deductible contributions.

So the Averitt Center for the Arts served as the original applicant. After Statesboro, as a community, won the $1 million third-place national prize in April, the award of that amount from the contest sponsors went directly into an account set up by the Averitt Center. City Council also voted in June to end the city’s role as fiscal agent and to transfer the $100,000 finalist-level prize and any money remaining from the $50,000 quarterfinalist prize and sponsorship package to the Averitt.

But the arts organization did not benefit directly from the prize money or keep it. Averitt Center for the Arts Executive Director Jamie Grady and other leaders in the organization wanted to make this point clear so that no arts patrons get the impression that the Averitt received a $1 million windfall.

“So obviously, the other big message is that people need to continue to support the Averitt as they have been doing,” Grady said in a late-August interview.

The Averitt Center transferred $1,120, 590.72 to the Blue Mile Foundation Inc. Aug. 25 with a check presented during a meeting of the foundation board.

“We had received the money because we were officially the contracted organization for the contest, and we held that money in a separate account, and that was the accumulation of the money that had not been spent previously,” Grady said the following week. “It has all been transferred now to the Blue Mile Foundation.”

Grady, who took over as Averitt Center director May 1, noted that the arts organization was asked to serve as the contest applicant because of its 501c3 tax-exempt status. Others involved in the Blue Mile planning arranged this with the Averitt Center’s previous executive director, Tim Chapman.

At that time, “expectations were low” for actually winning the ABC competition, so the various local agencies had not worked out how a million dollar prize would be handled, Grady observed.

“We’re really excited about the work that is taking place with the Blue Mile Foundation,” Grady said. “Obviously the Averitt is going to be a part of it, working with the committees, especially where arts are involved. But as far as the fiscal responsibility, we do not have a role in that.”

“Nor do we have the money. It’s good and it’s bad,” he added, laughing. “No, it’s all good, but obviously, the money was intended to fulfill the plan that was submitted that won the contest, and that’s what’s going to happen.”


A foundation is born

Before the money was transferred, the effort that began as the informal South Main Revitalization Committee, later renamed the Blue Mile Committee, birthed a new foundation.

Bank executive Darron Burnette and construction company owner Fennell, who both previously served as Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce presidents, have co-chaired the Blue Mile effort for more than three years. Both are now officers of the foundation, which was formed as a Georgia corporation in April.

“It’s just on paper that we’re officers, but it’s very much a committee and very much community-led,” Fennell said. “We have a great group of citizens that are leading each one of these committees, and the public is always welcome to join us.”

The Blue Mile Foundation has now completed its paperwork to be federally recognized as a 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofit. Although the final documentation has not been returned, the foundation has been advised by its accountant that it can now function as a 501c3 corporation, Fennell said. The foundation interviewed six or seven investment companies and has contracted with Wells Fargo Financial to maintain and invest the funds, she said.

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 across the United States. With the Blue Mile plan for the revitalization of South Main and surrounding neighborhoods, Statesboro won third place out of more than 350 communities that entered.

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


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