It didn’t happen in January, but South Georgia Tormenta FC President Darin Van Tassell said this week that the groundbreaking for the pro soccer organization’s new stadium may occur in early March.
That would also be the start for overall private development within the Old Register Road Tax Allocation District. The developers’ proposal also included a supermarket, two hotels, a movie theater, restaurants, a bank and other envisioned projects as parts of an estimated $160.5 million in private investment. The tax allocation district, or TAD, itself is a city of Statesboro entity that commits $4.75 million for public infrastructure, mostly roads, from increased city, county and school system property tax revenue expected from growth in the district after last Dec. 31.
In December, City Attorney Cain Smith and Bulloch County Attorney Jeff Akins said a requirement for a letter of intent from a supermarket operator to locate a “grocery store within the Old Register TAD” had been fulfilled by a letter received by the city and shared with county and school system officials. The intergovernmental agreement required such a letter by Dec. 31, 2018.
At that time, Smith said officials were “positive” that a grocery store chain would announce “before the end of January.” Other local sources expressed the same anticipation. Van Tassell, also in December, said he expected the stadium and supermarket projects to “move pretty simultaneously.”
But there was no announcement or groundbreaking ceremony in January. Asked Jan. 31, Smith said that city officials remain confident the supermarket is coming, but he referred further questions to Van Tassell.
Van Tassell and one of Statesboro’s assistant city managers confirmed that planning and permitting are moving forward for the road projects that would make the private development possible.
“It’s all moving along smoothly,” Van Tassell said Tuesday. “The piece that I can talk to you about is, the roads are out for bid, and we expect for early March for some groundbreakings to occur.”
One groundbreaking ceremony he is predicting will be for the stadium complex. In addition to the stadium seating 5,300 people for soccer games and up to 14,000 for concerts and similar events, this will include a restaurant, a craft brewery and the Tormenta FC offices and team stores.
Van Tassell said he doesn’t “get to answer for” the unnamed company that is expected to build the supermarket.
“There’s no doubt, from a ceremony standpoint we would have ours first,” he said. “Those roads have got to get further along so they can do their part.”
Van Tassell and his wife own The Clubhouse family fun center and are also among the owners of Tormenta FC, of which he is president, and the investment group for other projects in the TAD.
It is the private developers – not the city – who are taking steps, through an engineering firm and eventually through contractors, to widen Old Register Road with multiple lanes up to Veterans Memorial Parkway, install traffic signals and build a street called Tormenta Way.
The city’s role is in monitoring and permitting, Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles said Thursday.
“Once we’ve issued approval on that roadway, then the developer will construct that roadway, we’ll inspect the roadway to city standards, and once completed, we will go through the process of having that right of way accepted and deeded to the city,” Boyles said.
He also talked about the planned road improvements. For this, Boyles received some of his information from Robert Cheshire, the former deputy city manager who works for Maxwell Reddick & Associates and is now project manager for the engineering firm as it works for the developers.
About four-tenths of a mile long, Tormenta Way will parallel Veterans Memorial Parkway, eastward from Old Register Road, along the current tree line visible from the parkway to a proposed southward extension of Akins Boulevard. Tormenta Way apparently will be three car lanes wide, with bike lanes and one sidewalk.
Meanwhile, planned improvements, including turn lanes, will make Old Register Road as wide as six lanes, also over a distance of about 0.4 mile from The Clubhouse to the parkway, Boyles said.
Some work on Veterans Memorial Parkway also will be part of the project, Boyles explained. This will include adding a second left-turn lane in the parkway’s westbound approach to Old Register and traffic signals over the intersection, where there are none now.
Permits applied for
Even Old Register Road’s southbound approach from the Georgia Southern University campus will undergo some changes, with the expected removal of the right-turn only limitation onto the parkway.
“It’s a hazardous intersection currently, so this will dramatically improve safety conditions in that intersection, if the Department of Transportation improves all of those permit applications,” Boyles said.
Georgia Department of Transportation permits are required for the work affecting the parkway, also known as Statesboro’s U.S. Highway 301 bypass.
“The signal permit, the encroachment permit and the permit for some utility work have all been applied for with the Georgia Department of Transportation by the project engineer, Maxwell Reddick & Associates,” Boyles said. “So it’s going through the review and approval process with DOT.”
Only city-issued permits should be needed for Tormenta Way and the traffic signals planned for it at Old Register Road, because these will be exclusively a city-owned street and intersection, Boyles said.
On Tuesday, the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to deed a section of Old Register Road to the city of Statesboro. This was done so that the improvements will all be part of the city, since Statesboro years ago annexed The Clubhouse and the road in front of it, but not a portion of the road between The Clubhouse and the parkway.
All of the state permits except the one for the traffic signals at the Veterans Memorial Parkway intersection are expected to be approved by the Georgia DOT district office in Jesup, Boyles said.
The traffic signal permit probably will be issued from the Atlanta office, which would take longer, he said, but the developer’s contractor could meanwhile be working on the other portions.
The planned extension of Akins Boulevard south and southeast from the parkway is neither a city project nor part of the TAD. Instead, the proposed extension is a Georgia Southern project, to be owned by the state through the university system Board of Regents. This new road would extend only about 100 yards from the parkway before intersecting Tormenta Way, but would then continue to Georgia Southern’s developing South Campus at Lanier Drive.
Boyles noted that there is a backup plan in case the Akins Boulevard extension does not move forward soon. Tormenta Way could end at a temporary turn-around loop.
“So at least initially the road may have a cul-de-sac until Darin (Van Tassell) is able to get the logistics worked out to connect with Akins Boulevard,” Boyles said. “I don’t know the time line of that project.”
The reporter submitted some questions about the Akins project to the university Friday, but not in time for this story.
Meanwhile, an early March groundbreaking would leave just over 12 months to complete the stadium in time for the 2020 soccer season, Tormenta FC’s stated goal.
“That’s what we’re hoping,” Van Tassell said. “You know, that’s like all great construction projects, you’ve got to build in time to get them open. But we need to be playing in there in the 2020 season, and that’s in March 2020 when that season would begin.”
Herald writer Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.