Statesboro officials and volunteers planning the Creek on the Blue Mile project look to the Carroll Creek project in Frederick, Maryland, for inspiration, while acknowledging that project is on a much larger scale.
July 9-11, a delegation of 23 people from Statesboro visited the Maryland city, where a flood in 1976 caused from $5 million to $25 million in damages, according to estimates reported in the Frederick News-Post, and led to a more than $60 million flood control project. Later, in the 2000s and concluding in 2016, further mostly public investment of $27 million created the Carroll Creek Park with stone and metal footbridges, wide landscaped brick walkways, art installations, aquatic plants, fountains and an amphitheater.
“What I want to say about the Frederick project is that it’s a breathtakingly beautiful project,” Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar said this week. “The community has really done an excellent job of making this a place where people want to come and spend valuable time, whether they’re in restaurants, shopping centers or just hanging out in the parks that are located along this creek.”
On its website, the Maryland city also reported that $150 million in private investment was underway or planned in response to the creek’s attractions. Restaurants, a hotel and conference center and residential and office buildings are some of the related developments.
“This is truly an inspirational point for the city of Statesboro as it relates to our project,” McCollar said. “But I think that our project has a tremendous amount of potential as it relates to what it can do for the city in regards to economic development.”
McCollar led this year’s delegation, who from Tuesday evening through Wednesday talked to Frederick community leaders and toured the linear park and surrounding development. The mayor and his family made the trip by car, arriving a day earlier and leaving a day later than the rest, who flew up and back by airline.
Besides Carroll Creek Park, Frederick’s extensive park system includes Baker Park, a portion of which is designed to act as a catch basin. It floods temporarily until the water can drain away. The heart of the $60 million drainage system, funded one-third each by the city, state and federal governments, is a series of four 20-foot-wide underground culverts, big enough to drive a bus through and extending 1.3 miles.
In an initial visit in May 2018, a group from Statesboro saw Frederick during a heavy rain that flooded Baker Park and as the water drained away. That was after Statesboro commercial developers Andy Burns, now chair of the city’s new Creek District Oversight Committee, and Doug Lambert, now chair of the Downtown Tax Allocation District Advisory Committee, suggested Frederick as a model but before the Creek on the Blue Mile idea gained state funding and city sponsorship.
For this year’s trip, the city of Statesboro covered transportation and lodging costs for six employees, including three elected officials, according to new City Manager Charles Penny. The six were Penny, Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles, City Engineer John Washington, Mayor McCollar, District 3 Councilman Jeff Yawn and District 4 Councilman John Riggs. No other council members went.
Others in the delegation paid their own way or had other, private funding, said Creek on the Blue Mile Project Coordinator Bryan Davis. He is employed by the Blue Mile Foundation Inc., but the city is funding his salary for one year.
Members of the 2019 delegation report they arrived in Frederick two days after another major rain event, which by all accounts would have been a serious problem without the flood-control system.
“It worked perfectly as designed, and the funny thing is, the last trip that the group took, a flood happened during that time as well, and this flood was even a little bit bigger than that one,” Davis said.
Obviously, Frederick had a more serious problem with flooding in its downtown – photos from 1976 show people being evacuated in boats – than what has occasionally occurred in Statesboro.
“We do have a storm water issue, but ours is miniscule compared to what Frederick has been dealing with,” Davis acknowledged.
Statesboro’s plans are more modest as well. A perhaps 25-acre lake, or reservoir, to be created west of South College Street will feed an expanded creek where one flows ditch-like now, open most of the way but passing under South College Street and South Main Street. Committees will plan for art installations and landscape features to make the creek and linear park a scenic attraction, extending to the current Fair Road Park, where some other new features have been suggested.
So far the commitment of public funding for the Creek on the Blue Mile consists of a $5.5 million state direct investment and an up to $15.5 million line of credit, both through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, to the city of Statesboro.
“We’re not anticipating that this project is going to cost that entire $21 million, but we won’t know definitely until we’re able to get back the information from the engineering firms and then those that are going to design the project so we can get a better scope of what it looks like,” McCollar said.
In June, City Council authorized staff to negotiate a contract with the engineering firm Freese & Nichols for an environmental feasibility study. The contract may be presented to the council for approval in August, McCollar said, adding that the study should take eight months to a year followed by another eight months to a year for design work.
“So from a timeline standpoint, before you really start seeing the project move dirt and start building things, you’re probably at least 24 months out,” Davis said.
Until the study is complete, the project’s boosters won’t know the actual size of the reservoir or the potential depth and width of the creek.
Meanwhile, the city and committee are looking for other funding sources. One reason is to reduce how much of the $15.5 million line of credit the city would have to use and then repay.
As reported last week, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs rejected Statesboro’s request for $2 million from a federal Community Development Block Grant for this project. That has no effect on the already promised $21 million.
“That was just one avenue of funding we were exploring that didn’t work out, but we’ll be exploring avenues every time they’re available, because the ultimate goal is to make sure that we’re being economically responsible with any dollars that are being used on the project,” Bryan Davis said.
Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Becky Davis, no relation to Bryan, also went on the trip and provided photos and a comment by email.
“The trip to Frederick illustrated how this waterside linear park can promote a live, work, play environment that is beneficial to both visitors and residents,” she said. “Meeting with their tourism industry leaders gave us additional insight into the substantial economic impact this project will have on Statesboro."
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.