Statesboro is becoming proactive in attracting business to the area with new ways of addressing the community’s retail development and downtown revitalization strategies. The City has become one of the first of its size to recognize the benefits of an innovative approach in attracting new businesses and in marketing Statesboro properties to retail developers. Always considered progressive for a city of its size, Statesboro’s mayor and city officials have given the Office of Planning & Development the tools needed for identifying local entrepreneurial opportunities and for assisting existing businesses in better understanding their potential.
The community is using several new strategies, and forming important partnerships, in an effort to optimize the economic and community development of the area.
In 2013, the City of Statesboro engaged a Birmingham, AL, based retail development company, Retail Strategies, to assist their efforts in pro-actively recruiting retailers. As part of the Retail Strategies process, a market analysis is completed, a strategic plan is created, and retail recruitment begins facilitated by Retail Strategies. For three years the company will partner with Statesboro and keep a current and active inventory of commercial properties available for sale or lease.
Retail Strategies will also promote the properties to developers nationwide through marketing materials they develop, through their website, and through networking at industry events like the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).
In addition, the information that Retail Strategies collects, from constantly updating market analyses, can be used by existing retail businesses for expansion and by the City of Statesboro as a retention tool.
One of the important factors hindering retail development that was uncovered by Retail Strategies during the market analysis was the student population of Georgia Southern had not been a focus of past research and recruitment initiatives. By incorporating the 21,000 student’s spending potential with a regional trade area focus, Retail Strategies identified a substantial grocery store GAP in Statesboro’s market and reached out to multiple grocery concepts at ICSC meetings, and through follow-up phone calls.
WALMART Neighborhood Market
When community developers Andy Burns and Doug Lambert were approached about building a Walmart Neighborhood Market, one of their first concerns was protecting the architectural integrity of the Market District. A planned development, the Market District’s covenants included a requirement for all new developments to be reviewed by an Architectural Review Committee (ARC). Early during the project the ARC developed a set of guidelines to assure a coordinated project.
According to Lambert, “The Wal-Mart Neighborhood grocery store was developed by the Hutton Company who submitted a basic Wal-Mart plan to the ARC for approval. The ARC requested a number of changes to make the building more compatible with existing Market District buildings. These changes included different colors, the addition of stacked stone, landscaping, lighting and architectural enhancements such as Bahaman shutters, accent windows and changes in building materials.
The result is an attractive building that blends with the rest of the development. These improvements all had to be negotiated because the increased cost of the building affected the Wal-Mart lease factor. In the end, Statesboro will enjoy a new grocery store that is architecturally superior to similar stores in other cities.”
Andy Burns added, “Throughout the 11 years we have owned this property, our goal for Market District was to have this 11 acre front site developed as retail, preferably a grocery anchored center. During this time we had multiple inquiries from residential and professional prospects but we continued to hold out for retail because we felt this would bring in more traffic to the center in order to support the other folks who had bought and developed property in Market District.
“While we were not allowed to discuss it at the time, this site was very seriously considered by Publix, but they were not quite ready to come back to Statesboro, and by Kroger, but our site was not large enough for them.
“With no chance of having either of these two grocery chains coming to Market District, we continued to search for a grocery company interested in the site who could fit their concept on this property. When The Market Place concept came along, we did our research and found they were looking for space to build a "neighborhood" grocery store (one of ten new Market Place stores to open in Georgia in December 2014), in order to compete with Bi-Lo and Publix grocery stores.
“We were told they would be attracting about 4,000 additional cars per day into Market District and creating 95 new jobs. Their completed project would add $18-million to the Statesboro/Bulloch County property tax digest, generate sales tax revenues on about $30-million in grocery sales, (much of which is currently being purchased outside of Bulloch county), and facilitate the installation of a new red light at Brampton and Fair Road.
The developer, Hutton Company, enthusiastically agreed to all of our requested architectural upgrades and promised to be open within six months. Since there has not been a new grocery store to open in Statesboro in over 20 years, and the most likely other prospects were not interested in this site, we felt this new concept would be the highest and best use of the property we had available in the Market District.”
Right Start meetings are informal gatherings with the City of Statesboro’s staff to discuss future land development projects. The meetings are the first step in the development process for a developer or builder. The program is intended to streamline projects by reviewing concepts and identifying potential problems or concerns before significant time has been committed to the design of the potential business. Another goal of Right Start is to eliminate avoidable delays in construction due to those concerns.
A potential developer can get a head start by meeting with the City’s Engineering, Planning and Development, Public Works, Water/Waste Water, Natural Gas, and Fire Departments all at once to review project plans. All of the stakeholders in the development process are welcome at the Right Start table. Those may include architects, engineers, developers, and individual property owners.
“Our goal is for prospects to walk out of the meeting knowing every member of the City’s team. We also assign each project a manager to coordinate between the developer and the City during construction. We want the developer’s project to be completely vetted when he leaves our meeting,” stated City Planner Mandi Cody.
Right Start meetings are held by the City’s Planning and Development Department every Thursday afternoon beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the Development Annex (adjacent to City Hall) at 58-A East Main Street. Participation in Right Start is not mandatory for a new development or project, but it is very advantageous to use the process and the City strongly encourages customers to attend.
Those designing a new residential or commercial development, getting ready to add on to or expand an existing business, or contemplating a development project will benefit from a Right Start Meeting with the City of Statesboro development staff.
Examples of developments that would benefit from a Right Start Meeting
• Major and minor subdivisions
• Commercial developments
• Residential developments
• Major remodeling
• Building expansions
• Business start-ups
• Retail developments
The Blue Mile
Another way the City is looking at attracting businesses downtown is by participating in a local committee of South Main Street business owners and community stake holders. The goal of the local committee is the revitalization of the South Main Street corridor between the main entrance to Georgia Southern and the Bulloch County Courthouse on U.S. Highway 301. Mayor Jan J. Moore has partnered with Georgia Southern President Brooks Keel, Ph.D., to focus the community on the importance of an attractive entrance to the downtown area.
Mayor Moore stated, “If you ask someone what is the most beautiful image of Georgia Southern, almost without exception they mention the drive into Sweetheart Circle. I would like the entrance to our city - South Main - to be as beautiful and inviting as the road leading into Sweetheart Circle. There is never a second chance to make a first impression to a potential student and their family, to an industrial prospect, or to a visitor that may choose to bring their talents and energy to our community.
"We are beginning to see redevelopment along South Main - the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau and Southern Palace - and it looks like some momentum is gathering as the Tax Allocation District becomes a reality. It’s time for us as a community to recognize the true importance of a redeveloped South Main Street as an inviting, entertainment district for all ages.”
The committee held public meetings seeking input and cooperation from businesses and property owners on South Main. Plans for a new streetscape and ideas for improvements to the area were compiled for the committee by Santanu Majumbar, an assistant professor of graphic design in the Betty Foy Sanders Department of Art at Georgia Southern.
Ways to give incentives to property owners along South Main Street to improve their holdings are being developed by the City. With the encouragement of the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority and the Mayor and City Council, voters recently passed a Redevelopment Powers Act which authorizes Statesboro to create Tax Allocation Districts or TADs in the city.
Tax Allocation Districts
The passing of the Redevelopment Powers Act by City of Statesboro voters authorizes the local government to form one or more TAD districts. The City must adopt a map designating TAD boundaries and prepare a Redevelopment Plan to act as the business plan for the operation of the district. A taxable value is certified as the base value of the district and any tax revenue collected from improvements to the property goes into a fund set aside for improvements to blighted areas or to incentivize projects. TADs are often used to help pay for demolition of existing older buildings, expensive water or sewer upgrades, parking structures, new roads, streetscape improvements, or other extra costs that otherwise make private redevelopment financially unfeasible.
Once the TAD is created and the consent agreements are in place, the local government can then evaluate applications from private developers who wish to undertake redevelopment projects and access TAD funds to help defray project costs. If a local government agrees to contribute TAD funds to a project, the terms are negotiated in an agreement with the developer. The “development agreement” specifies the obligations and performance requirements of the developer in order to qualify to receive the funds, particularly if bonds are involved.
As public improvements and private investment take place in a TAD, the taxable value of property increases. The city/county collects those revenues, putting the increase due to the new investment into special fund to pay off bonds or loans that financed the public improvements in the district.
On December 16th Statesboro’s City Council unanimously approved the TAD map presented by the Blakely Group and the redevelopment proposal for downtown Statesboro – including South Main Street and other areas of the city.
The new plan states the goal for the TAD is “to encourage the private redevelopment of outmoded, highway oriented commercial development into pedestrian friendly, mixed use centers to achieve the vision set forth in the 2011 City of Statesboro Downtown Master Plan and the 2014 Comprehensive Plan.”
The TAD becomes the first step in reclaiming and improving the visual appeal of South Main. As properties are developed and funds are available for improvements to sidewalks, for the creation of bike paths and green space, Statesboro’s growth in a positive direction is assured for the future.
The City Campus/Fab Lab
Another partnership with Georgia Southern and the City of Statesboro involves an extension of the University downtown. The Georgia Southern City Campus is a joint initiative between Georgia Southern, the City of Statesboro, and the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in Bulloch County.
The City Campus will contain a Business Incubator or Fabrication Laboratory (Fab Lab) to be used by entrepreneurs. The business innovator can aid in an idea becoming reality by producing a prototype in the lab with a 3D printer. Office space is available in the Incubator for use in the development of a business and marketing plan, along with the offices of the Small Business Development Center which can assist new business owners with obtaining loans or investors. When a business is ready to expand, it can move to one of Statesboro or Bulloch County’s business parks. The Fab Lab then becomes the “incubator” for new businesses from concept to marketplace.
An innovative idea in planning for future business development for a community, the City Campus captures the synergy of students, faculty, and the community as Statesboro continues to grow.