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Publix shopping center means city will be repaid for roads, see further growth

Officials of Statesboro’s city government are among the people pleased to see the Eagles Corner Shopping Center, including a Publix supermarket, move toward construction. The company that will build the shopping center has now invited local officials to help break ground in a ceremony May 26.

A commitment for a “grocery store” in the Old Register Road Tax Allocation District, or TAD, beyond the Veterans Memorial Parkway bypass was required under an August 2018 agreement among the city, the Bulloch County commissioners and the Board of Education. The agreement assigned a portion of growth in county and school system property taxes from the 200-plus-acre TAD to help fund roads and other infrastructure within it, after the city had committed the growth margin in its property tax revenue from the TAD by creating it.

Then the city borrowed $4.75 million from a bank at a low bond-like interest rate and used it to reimburse the TAD developers, namely Tormenta FC soccer franchise President Darin Van Tassell and the other JGR Development LLC investors, for construction of the new street called Tormenta Way and the widening of Old Register Road to multiple lanes through the TAD area. These became city streets.

So, city officials are glad that the TAD will at last see some real growth in property values so that the tax revenue margin can begin repaying the debt. They also hope the proposed development will blossom further and yield far more revenue in the future.

“I think all of us are excited about seeing that development move forward, because the council invested borrowed money in anticipation of getting the infrastructure in place with the TAD, and it doesn’t work unless you get development that grows that tax base that helps to pay that debt,” Statesboro City Manager Charles W. Penny said Tuesday.

“But even more than that, to see development going there is exciting for the community,” he continued. “We’re excited about it. … I’ve been here July will be two years, and we’ve been talking about it all this time, and thankfully we’re at a place now where hopefully we’ll see some dirt moving soon.”


A larger vision

The supermarket and planned new 5,000-seat Tormenta Stadium complex were focal points of a broader, speculative vision for more than $160 million in private investment that Van Tassell’s group pitched to local officials three years ago when seeking the TAD commitments. Additional envisioned projects include two hotels, a movie theater, restaurants and a bank.

Watkins Retail Group, which builds shopping centers where Publix supermarkets become the anchor  tenants, purchased a 12.2 acre site, east of Old Register Road between Veterans Memorial Parkway and Tormenta Way, while  the rest of the TAD acreage remains in the hands of local landowners involved in JGR Development LLC.


The shopping center

Eagles Corner Shopping Center will consist of a 48,000-square-foot Publix store plus 16,000 to 17,000 square feet of built spaces for other tenants, typically restaurants or retailers. Additionally, three outparcels were proposed for other businesses. Bob  Peck, vice  president of development for Watkins Retail Group, said in January  that the company was working with about four prospective “restaurants concepts,” a hair salon, and nail salon and “a medical usage” for spots in the center, and had three or four other individuals  looking at outparcels.

Peck had not returned calls seeking an update Tuesday, and the Statesboro Herald’s information about the May 26 groundbreaking ceremony and last week’s deal closing came from Van Tassell. However, Peck had told the newspaper two weeks earlier that they were working together on arrangements to break ground on the shopping center sometime in May.

Van Tassell had also informed the city government of the ceremony on that date.

“I’m elated to hear the news that Publix and Watkins have closed on their property,” Mayor Jonathan McCollar said. “This is excellent news for the city, and it is showing us that the TAD is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, and the whole idea of the TAD is to be an aide in attracting new businesses to our community so that we can improve the quality of life for our citizens.

“So this is really, really big for us and we’re excited to welcome Publix back to the Statesboro community,” he said.


Previous ceremony

Many readers recall a previous groundbreaking ceremony, where the proposed Publix location was announced – but not by Watkins and not as the main event – back in March 2019. That was actually a groundbreaking for the Tormenta soccer stadium and the overall Old Register TAD plan. The stadium hasn’t been built yet, either.

“We did break ground,” Van Tassell said Tuesday. “We broke ground for all of the infrastructure – we had  to  get all that down – in fact that day we were very clear on what we were breaking ground for, and between the (many) inches of rain that we got from November to February right before the pandemic hit, and then the pandemic hit,  much of that  got delayed.

“But as we’re starting to come out of it, we’re super pleased that Publix is breaking ground, and our projects are right behind them,” he said.


Street network

What was completed, by January 2021, was publicly funded infrastructure work costing $5.25 million, including the addition of multiple lanes  along a section of Old Register Road to the bypass, plus the construction of new Tormenta Way, extending eastward parallel to the bypass, and placement  of traffic lights at both intersections. Utility lines, pipelines and drainage structures were also installed.

That $5.25 million sums up $500,000 the city spent on traffic lights for the project from its own Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue plus the borrowed $4.75 million advanced to JGR Development LLC for the other infrastructure.

Right now, the city is overseeing another road project that will connect with the TAD development but is not part of the district and is not funded by the city or the developers. Also being carried out by Mill Creek Construction, the same contractor that did the road work within the TAD, the extension of the Akins Boulevard beyond the bypass is funded 70% by a Georgia Department of Transportation grant to the city and 30% by Georgia Southern University.

The first phase, costing $1.4 million, will link the bypass to the east end of Tormenta Way.

A second phase, projected to cost $5.9 million, would continue southward to the university’s South Campus area with further state funding.

The first phase is expected to be completed this summer and appears to be on schedule, said Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles.

Four infrastructure pieces had to be put in place for construction of the Publix-anchored shopping center to move forward, Van Tassell said.  These were in the expansion of Old Register Road, the installation of traffic lights, the planned assignment of Georgia Southern bus stops within the development and the extension of Akins Boulevard.

“Once that one started moving forward it allowed Publix to start moving into their closing phases, which takes a few months to do,” he said.

This story is subject to revision and update for Thursday’s edition.




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