The Dream Realized
Bulloch’s Premier Agricultural Arena
The framework is finally taking shape for the long-awaited Agricultural Arena being built on the site selected 19 years ago when the Bulloch County Board of Education deeded roughly 50 acres of land across from Langston Chapel Elementary School to the county. Funding is being provided by a 1998 SPLOST referendum approved by 93% of Bulloch County’s voters. Over the years the special tax has accumulated over $6 million for the arena which was originally part of a three-phase plan to incorporate a state and federal agribusiness office building, a conference center and a large multi-purpose arena.
Much local excitement was generated by the proposed complex. Local tourism representatives, the City, the Chamber, the Development Authority and the County bought an ad which appeared in a 2001 issue of Georgia Trend magazine featuring a meeting being conducted by local business leaders surrounding a board table in a corn field to illustrate the expected economic impact in Agritourism such a facility would bring to the area.
The first phase, Bulloch County’s Center for Agricultural Business was completed in 2003 by local commercial construction company Dabbs Williams. The 22,000 square ft. structural steel and pre-cast concrete building houses the Bulloch County UGA Extension offices, plus the offices of USDA Rural Development, USDA Farm Service Agency, USDA Farm Loan Program, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Georgia Soil & Water Conservation Commission, which provides a one-stop-shop for farmers with most Ag-related agencies housed under one roof.
Plans to continue parts two and three of the project were put on hold when projected construction costs of the conference center and arena overran the available funding. At the time there were concerns from the county commission and then County Manager Scott Wood that there would not be enough funding to cover the operations of the convention center and the arena. As years passed, the funds accrued, but the recession of 2008 had the county holding off once again on construction until the economy improved.
In July 2016 local accountant and equestrian enthusiast Billy Hickman, principal in the firm Dabbs, Hickman, Hill & Cannon CPAs, approached the county commission about completing the multi-purpose arena phase of the original project. Meetings were held at the Bulloch County Airport with an initial committee of Hermon “Dink” Butler, Doug Lambert, Laura Daniels, Mike Rollins, Hickman and architect Jim Ingram to discuss the project. Hickman and the committee members made presentations to the Chamber Agribusiness Committee, Rotary Club, and major donor prospects to create renewed interest and to promote the potential of the new facility. Since 2016, Judge Michael Muldrew and local resident Brian Cartee have joined the committee.
“We invited Jim Ingram to join us to talk about the possibilities of the arena complex,” stated Hickman. “He knew about this type of project and had a lot of experience building these types of arenas.”
Ingram, of Studio 8 Design in Valdosta, specializes in the design and development of large-scale agricultural facilities in South Georgia including the National Fairgrounds & Agricenter in Perry and the Georgia Museum of Agriculture in Tifton.
Ingram designed new plans for a Premier Agricultural Center to include three large covered areas: the main arena, a practice arena and a multi-stall livestock barn. The construction bid was awarded to local contractor Pope Construction for $4,282,008 excluding the site preparation work which would be performed by the County.
“Pope Construction has been a wonderful choice for building the center and Bill Vickery has been super to work with,” said Hickman.
A ground-breaking ceremony attended by well over 200 citizens was held on June 1, 2017 and a billboard installed on U.S. Highway 301 adjacent to the property to remind local citizens and visitors about the Ag Arena and the potential economic impact the new facility would bring to the county.
“We did our market research and studied the demographics which showed that the closest facilities of this type were located outside of a 75-mile radius of Bulloch County,” said Hickman. “The closest facilities similar to this were in Augusta, Jacksonville, and Macon. Within that radius we were surprised to learn that there are over two million people, with a projected population growth of 5% through 2022.” Those numbers are favorable in projecting need for the facility and usage.
The Main Covered Arena will be a 54,000 square ft. structural steel, aluminum, and concrete building with 125’ x 250’ portable performance ring for equestrian or livestock events. Numerous configurations of the facility will allow flexibility for other events such as rodeos, trade shows and concerts. The building will contain bleacher seating for 3,000 with restrooms, concessions and office space for show administration.
A Covered Practice Arena, a special feature not commonly seen at such facilities which usually rely on open fields for practice areas, will contain 38,500 square feet, with a portable performance ring just like the one in the Main Arena. No spectator bleachers will be installed, but there will be covered walkways connecting the Practice Arena to the Main Arena and the Livestock Barn.
The Livestock Barn will feature 218 ten ft. x ten ft. stalls with 20 wash bays for livestock. There will be ample electrical service for grooming and equipment needs, restroom facilities and paved aisles.
An RV campground adjacent to the Livestock Barn will have 53 sites with full utilities and campsite space. There will be a central station with water and sewer.
The county commission has placed responsibility for the center’s construction and operations under the umbrella of the Statesboro/Bulloch County Parks & Recreation Department headed by Director Mike Rollins.
“I’m happy for Mike to be running the arena,” said Hickman. “I know it will be as well-kept as Mill Creek Park - a tremendously prestigious facility.”
Plans are underway to hire an executive director for the Arena with completion projected for December 2017. Planners expect the first events to be held in the new facility in the spring of 2018.
“I think the time is right now to do something good for the community,” Rollins has stated.
Committee member and local hotel owner Doug Lambert agrees, “The state has long recognized that Georgia needs more tourism ‘product.’ The Bulloch County Agriculture Center is a perfect example of a facility that will not only contribute to the quality of life in Bulloch County, but will provide a venue to attract visitors from a wide area. Statistics show these visitors place little burden on county infrastructure while providing a significant boost to the local economy,” said Lambert.
“I’ve already gotten several calls from organizations wanting to book the arena,” said Rollins. “I think it will prove to be a great investment in the future by Bulloch County citizens.”