After voters granted the city of Statesboro redevelopment powers through a Nov. 4 referendum, business leaders, city officials and consultants are scrambling to map a Tax Allocation District, or TAD, for downtown and to adopt a redevelopment plan before Dec. 31.
City Council is slated to have a TAD plan in hand for a first reading Dec. 2 and a public hearing and council vote Dec. 16.
About 20 local people, including officials as well as businesspeople in the South Main Street Redevelopment Coalition, met for about two hours Thursday with consultants from Bleakly Advisory Group. Detailed maps of Statesboro with potential TAD boundaries shaded in were on the table for the meeting at The Hall By 40 East Grill.
However, the meeting did not end with a finished map, Allen Muldrew, the executive director of the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority, reported Friday.
“The district that was drawn out around the Main Street area does not have enough projected economic growth to do any kind of improvements on South Main,” Muldrew said. “So as a community, if that’s still the priority, we’ll have to kind of branch out from downtown.”
But one thing local people learned from the consultants is that the district can be extended narrowly along highways and streets to take in other areas with potential for development while leaving out already developed areas. So, for example, Sea Island Bank and East Main Street beyond it have been excluded from the map because they are already near their potential, Muldrew said.
But versions of the map considered this week not only took in South Main, but reached up North Main to selected areas on Northside Drive.
‘The Blue Mile’
Improvements along South Main, also known as U.S. Highway 301, from Georgia Southern University to the Bulloch County Courthouse, are the priority that started the drive toward the redevelopment powers referendum. Some call a vision for this corridor, with landscape improvements and hoped-for new businesses, the “Blue Mile.”
Speaking at a work session prior to Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting, businesswoman Keely Fennell, a leader in the South Main Street Coalition, described the kind of work members hope to see done along the Blue Mile with TAD funds.
“Our goals from the beginning have been fourfold,” Fennell said, “to occupy vacant buildings, to improve the state and condition of existing buildings, to demolish any properties that are deemed unsalvageable and to enhance this area with new signage, benches, flags, planters, et cetera.”
At least one suggested outline of the district would encompass an area southwest from South College Street that includes woods and open land. This type of area, Muldrew said, would allow potential for new residential or commercial development.
But the concern for including areas with growth potential has to balance with a limit on how much of the city’s total tax base can be placed in Tax Allocation Districts.
Under the state Redevelopment Powers Law, no matter how many TADs a city creates, the taxable value in all of them can add to know more than 10 percent of the total property values in the city limits.
The biggest possible downtown TAD chalked up on a map prior to Thursday’s meeting already included about 8.5 percent to 9 percent of Statesboro’s total tax base, by local estimates.
However, Jonathan Gelber, a senior advisor with Bleakly Advisory Group, told the locals that the firm recommends creating districts that take up only 4 percent to 6 percent of the total available tax base.
“You can go higher. You can go lower. That’s up to you,” Gelber said, “but we think it’s a good idea to leave some room for future TADs.”
City Councilman Phil Boyum and Mayor Jan Moore represented the elected city government at Thursday’s meeting. Boyum, in an interview, said he isn’t so concerned about staying within the recommended range because he is confident that the city will continue to grow more rapidly outside of downtown, reducing the TAD’s share of the total digest.
“We’re trying to draw a map that includes as big an area as possible, that includes as many properties as possible that have potential for growth, because that growth in turn could create additional growth, so it’s a positive feedback,” Boyum said.
The TAD will not increase tax rates. Instead, it dedicates any growth in property tax revenues resulting from new construction or rising values within the district to public improvements, such as sidewalks, parks, street lighting, scenic trails and water and sewer projects, also in the district.
‘Snapshot’ of values
Growth is determined by a “snapshot” of what the property values are at the beginning of the district’s first year.
So if the district is not approved before Jan. 1, the value of any new construction or improvements during 2015 would be excluded from the TAD funds throughout the district’s existence, according to Muldrew and Moore, who discussed this at Tuesday’s work session. The TAD, as being planned locally, has a maximum life of 30 years.
Having heard the local input, Bleakly Advisory Group will work up revenue projections and deliver a TAD map for local consideration by Tuesday, Muldrew said. More than one possible map may be presented, Boyum said.
City Council has the final say on the district’s boundaries.
The consultants said they will work quickly to have a draft of the complete redevelopment plan ready for the Dec. 2 council meeting.
Moore encouraged the South Main group to focus on getting the map and plan done and to leave other considerations for later. Those will include asking the county commissioners and school board for buy-in so that growth in their tax revenues could be captured for use in the district.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.