The most strikingly visible project so far in the Blue Mile revitalization of South Main Street required neither public funds nor America’s Best Communities winnings. Local donations paid for the “Blue Mile” gateway signs, which glow at night, and their masonry bases.
Blue Mile Committee members asserted this when the more-than $100,000 project, with Whitfield Signs as the main contractor, was completed in March. Accounting documents recently obtained from the committee and from the city of Statesboro confirm it.
“The cool thing is, it was paid for by local citizens who want to make a difference, and their names are memorialized on the gateway itself, and I think what set us apart from other communities was, we were the only community that had a lot of mom-and-pop businesses with skin in the game,” said Keely Fennell, one of the Blue Mile Committee co-chairs.
In a recent interview, she and co-chair Darron Burnette said the gateway sign project provides a focal point for the long-range revitalization plan and gave Statesboro an edge in the America’s Best Communities contest.
“Most cities that have been successful in their effort for revitalization, they have a distinct area marked, and we found that through our visits to other communities in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama,” Burnette said.
The location of the gateway signs, near the U.S. Highway 301 entrance to Georgia Southern University, was chosen to invite university students into the Blue Mile and downtown Statesboro, he said.
In April, Statesboro was announced as the national third-place winner, to receive $1 million, in the contest sponsored by Frontier Communities, CoBank, Dish Network and the Weather Channel. The corporations put up $10 million to encourage redevelopment projects in towns with populations between 9,500 and 80,000 in Frontier’s service areas.
First-place Huntington, West Virginia and second-place Lake Havasu City, Arizona won $3 million and $2 million, respectively, for their revitalization plans.
Each of the winning communities previously received $100,000 as one of the eighth finalists, and a $35,000 cash prize as one of the 50 original quarterfinalists. No additional cash was awarded at the naming of 15 semifinalist communities.
Statesboro’s $35,000 quarterfinal prize was supplemented by a $15,000 sponsorship from communications cable company Anixter and another $15,000 as a local cash match from the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority.
But none of Statesboro’s $1,165,000 in prizes and sponsorships was needed for the gateway signs.
Over $130K donated
As the Blue Mile Committee raised money for the project, 10 cash contributions totaling $33,000 from local businesses and foundations were originally deposited Nov. 7 to the America’s Best Communities fund maintained by the city of Statesboro, as shown in a city spreadsheet. But the $33,000 was then transferred to an Averitt Center for the Arts Inc. account with a single check Dec. 5.
The Averitt Center, as a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation, was the original applicant in the ABC competition. After the Dec. 5 transfer, another 24 cash donations, totaling $86,100, designated for the project were deposited directly into the Averitt Center account, as showed in a “transaction detail” page Fennell provided.
When the deposits to the two accounts were brought together, cash contributions totaled $119,100.
Five in-kind donations of materials or services, valued at a total of $18,000, came from Whitfield Signs, concrete supplier Mike Kennedy and builder John Lavender, Chuck Perry of EMC Engineering and B&T Electrical, according to the Blue Mile Committee’s list of donations.
So, cash and in-kind contributions for the gateway signs totaled $137,100.
Cost and remainder
Two checks totaling $85,085 were paid to Whitfield signs. When the $18,000 valuation of the in-kind donations is added, the cost of the project comes to $103,085, so it did not use up all of the cash contributions. A check for the difference, or $34,014.68 to be exact, was issued March 10 from the Averitt Center account to the city account.
“At the completion of the project, we asked the Averitt to transfer all unused gateway funds back to the city of Statesboro for use on other Blue Mile projects,” Fennell said in an email.
Donors who gave $5,000 or more were offered the opportunity to have their names or dedications to people they wanted to honor cast in plaques set into the brick columns.
A newly created nonprofit corporation, the Blue Mile Foundation Inc., is preparing to receive the $1 million ABC prize this summer. Mayor Jan Moore has said she wants the city to relinquish its role as fiscal agent for the contest winnings and turn over more than $137,000 remaining from the prizes received earlier in the contest to the foundation.
The January 2016 memorandum of understanding with the Averitt Center and the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority that put the city in charge of the winnings is on the agenda for modification at Tuesday’s 9 a.m. City Council meeting.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.