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Visitors Bureau to build venue for Farm Market, other events
Given added share of hotel-motel tax for project
The Visitors Center's planned new venue, to be renovated from an existing warehouse with added porches and green space, will host the Main Street Farmers Market and special events.

The Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, or SCVB, plans to have an existing warehouse it owns, behind the visitor’s center on South Main Street, renovated as a venue for the Main Street Farmers Market and other events before the 2021 season.

City Council on Tuesday approved the reassignment of 8.33% of Hotel-Motel Tax revenue to the SCVB to fund this project, expected to cost about $650,000.

“Probably one of the primary goals would be to create a permanent facility for the farmer’s market, and then we’d also be able to use the venue for events and hopefully do some things, partnering with hotels, that would attract some smaller groups, maybe medium-size groups that would come to town, put some heads in beds at our hotels,” SCVB board Vice President Barry Turner told the council.

The 8.33% was the share of the tax the city previously committed, over several years, to help pay for the Shooting Sports Education Center at Georgia Southern University. The city’s advanced funding toward that project was fully repaid at some point during the 2019 fiscal year, which ended June 30.


Gets almost half

Overall, the Hotel-Motel Tax is projected to collect about $900,000 this fiscal year. The SCVB already received a 41.67% share of the revenue annually, while the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority gets 19.9% and the Averitt Center for the Arts gets 25.1%. State law restricts how some portions of the money can be spent.

Since the Shooting Sports Center was paid off, the unassigned share has accumulated about $80,000, already available for the SCVB’s project, City Manager Charles Penny told the council. At current collection levels, the 8.33% share of the tax should amount to about $75,000 a year, he said in a reply email later Tuesday.

A City Council member asked if the other agencies that receive Hotel-Motel Tax revenue agreed to the transfer. They will still receive the same shares of funding, and the Main Street Farmers Market, which the SCVB intends to host at the new facility, is administered by the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority.

“We’ve worked kind of an informal agreement,” DSDA Executive Director Allen Muldrew said during the meeting.

Council’s approval vote for the funding was 4-0, on a motion from District 3 Councilwoman Venus Mack seconded by District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers. District 4 Councilman John Riggs was absent.

The $650,000 is the projected overall cost of the project, Turner and SCVB Executive Director Becky Davis said in interviews Tuesday. The SCVB already selected St. Andrews Builders as its contractor, on the lowest of three bids, Davis said.

The tourism agency’s staff and board members developed the design, and the renderings shown to the mayor and council were created by SCVB Marketing Manager Justin Samples, Davis said.

Plans call for several large roll-up doors, like garage doors but with glass instead of opaque panels, to be installed along both the front and back sides of the building. The interior measures about 7,500 square feet, but the plans also call for large porch-like overhanging roofs to be added on the front and back as well.


Under a roof

For more than a decade the Main Street Farmers Market has been held outdoors in the parking lots behind the former Sea Island Bank, which is now Synovus. The market operates on Saturdays mornings from April until November, capped by the Shopping by Lantern Light event the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving.

The new facility will allow the market to be held mostly under a roof, largely eliminating the need for tents.

On the side nearest the visitor’s center, Farmers Market vendors who work out of trucks will be able to back them up to the covered porch, while other vendors will use tables inside the building, Turner said.

Behind it, the grounds slope down to a creek, on the other side of which is the Willie McTell Trail. The SCVB’s plans call for a footbridge over the creek and landscaping to create a park-like space.

“We’ve got great ideas for events and festivals that we could host here,” Davis said. “We want people to be able to walk downtown, walk from the college.”

The SCVB purchased the warehouse, which was packed with furniture, mattresses and other items, a few years ago from the former owner of a local motel, and has since given away much of the contents to local charities and the public.

After all the recent rain, the SCVB leaders expressed caution about construction timelines. But Davis said the contractor projected the work could be done in about six months, and Turner said the board’s goal, or hope, is to have the facility ready to host Shopping by Lantern Light this November.

“That could be kind of the culmination of the market season and also introducing everybody to the new facility, which would also let us have one market to see how the flow was, and maybe if there were any changes to how we set everything up, we would be able to do that before the next market season,” he said.


To repay a loan

Tuesday’s resolution states that the  8.33% share will go to the Convention and Visitors Bureau until the city government decides it is needed for a another project. The SCVB plans to take a loan to get the work done this year.

At the current pace, the revenue would cover the projected cost in about seven and a half more years. But Turner noted that the tax varies and said the board hopes to pay off the loan sooner.


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