Whitfield Signs opened in its new location in October, becoming the first occupant of the West District, a planned retail and professional center that could also include residential lofts, on the western side of downtown Statesboro.
That Whitfield Signs was first to move in is no surprise, since company owner Josh Whitfield is one of the three developing partners of the West District. He planned the move both to consolidate his sign company to one location with room for continuing growth and to make it the flagship for the West District’s look and potential.
“This is designed to be a sales center for the West District as well, so it’s going to serve both purposes, for us at Whitfield Signs and also being able to show an example of what this West District is and what it’s about, the architecture and that downtown feel, trying to bring some historic downtown character to new development,” Whitfield said.
Whitfield’s partners in the overall West District project are BAK Builders President Brian Kent and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Delan Gaines.
Kent’s construction firm, BAK, renovated the former West Building Supply warehouse into a 50,000-square-foot production space for Whitfield Signs and built a 4,500-square-foot suite of offices and conference rooms into the front of the building.
Inside, the office suite exemplifies the look that Whitfield calls “new Southern architecture,” with industrial and downtown elements. Some exposed walls are made of variegated old brick. Glass panels in an interior wall, across from front windows with large panes, admit sunlight to the middle of the office area. Tables feature dark wooden tops over steel supports that resemble the bracing in an antique factory.
The developers used bricks and other materials found on the site as well as bricks from the former cotton warehouses that were torn down not long ago on East Vine Street. Before it was West Building Supply, Whitfield’s location was a tobacco warehouse, he noted.
Out on the corner, West Building Supply’s distinctive four-sided sign provided the framework for the West District sign, a new landmark with a vintage past. A water tower shown in concept drawings for the West District is still in development and will be “purely for aesthetics and branding and marketing,” Whitfield said.
With a planned Phase 1 and proposed Phase 2, the West District could eventually house about 120,000 square feet of businesses, professional offices and loft apartments. This square footage includes two large existing buildings plus a rough estimate of all-new buildings that could be added.
Investments of $10 million to $15 million will be required to build out the West District vision, Whitfield estimates.
“What we’re offering is truly an experience, being part of downtown but having parking, having function and having an area that inspires and businesses that want to be here and employees in creating a workspace that everybody can proud of, from specialized services and technology to specialized retail,” he said.
With its own landscaped greenspaces and parking areas, West District could host “food-truck Fridays” and community events, he said.
“We want it to be a place where you can live, work, play and truly have an experience, and that is part of being downtown,” Whitfield said.
In front of Whitfield Signs’ new headquarters, facing South College Street between Bulloch Street and West Cherry Street, build-ready sites have been prepared for investment.
“Currently there are six outparcel lots available in Phase 1, and we are in the process of incorporating a Phase 2 next-door where the old Warehouse is,” Kent said.
In this case he is not referring to the transformed West Building Supply warehouse, but to the former location of the business named The Warehouse, across West Cherry Street. The Warehouse building, measuring 36,000 square feet, will be divided and renovated for businesses, and two additional outparcels there would also be part of proposed Phase 2, Kent said.
Covenants will govern design choices for West District’s parcel developers. For example, a selection of bricks is designated to match those in downtown Statesboro.
At the request of the West District’s developers, the city of Statesboro recently advertised the block of West Cherry Street between South College Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive for abandonment as a public street. No objections were heard, and City Council formally abandoned the street segment by a 5-0 vote Oct. 16.
However, it isn’t actually closed. The developers promised to keep the street open to foot and vehicle traffic. But making it a part of the West District allows parking to be added along the side of the existing building, and the lane will be improved at private expense, Kent and Whitfield said.
More coming soon
For now, the Whitfield Sign building and the six parcels in front form Phase 1. The original developers have been talking to investors interested in purchase contracts for some of the parcels.
“We should be announcing some new additions here in the next few weeks,” Whitfield said Monday.
The West District development is entirely within the city’s Blue Mile, or South Main Street, tax allocation district, so the growth in property tax values it generates will be captured, through the TAD increment, for funding redevelopment incentive projects in the area.
Meanwhile, Whitfield Signs has a new, unified base of operations. Previously the company, founded in 2011, operated from a sales and digital production headquarters on Veterans Memorial Parkway near Lowe’s but had a separate fabrication building near the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport.
Now Whitfield has placed both functions in the West District location, where he is adding automated equipment for sign fabrication. Whitfield has about 25 employees and expects to hire about five more within the next year as the company designs and installs signs throughout the Southeast.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.