Boro goes blue: How GSU is helping to revitalize downtown

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Tandra Smith

Georgia Southern University is currently working with the City of Statesboro on a revitalization project for the one-mile-stretch between the university and downtown Statesboro, titled the “Blue Mile”.

“[The Blue Mile] is a city initiative supported by the county and university to rejuvenate the South Main portion of Statesboro so we don’t have the sense of separation between what is campus and what is the downtown area,” Wendy Denton, assistant director for service learning in the Office of Leadership and Community Engagement, said. “This [project] is an effort to recapture our original town relationship.”

Historically, the university had a huge presence in the downtown area, with students working, living, and spending time in the city. However, with the completion of the US 301 Bypass in 2008, less students travel downtown and opt to instead use the bypass to visit the more developed areas of Statesboro.

“I’m from Atlanta, so I’m not used to not having a lot to do. [The project] sounds good because I’d like to walk and be closer to downtown and attend some of those events,” Devin Jones, senior biology major, said.

Jones does not go downtown a lot and had not heard of the Blue Mile project before. He is just one of the many students that Denton tries to target.

“[My main role] has been to help encourage and introduce students to the idea of the Blue Mile,” Denton said.

One particular event that she helped to create was Step Into Statesboro, an all-day field trip-esque event that was held in the fall of 2015, in which over 300 students traveled to the downtown area to learn about the history of Statesboro, visit the Farmer’s Market and the Averitt Center for the Arts and meet various Statesboro community leaders.

“We had a number of students take an interest in the downtown organizations and the downtown revitalization effort. [The Office of Leadership and Community Engagement] functions as a front door to get students out into the community,” Denton said.

Students feel that the Blue Mile will allow them to visit downtown more easily, however haven’t heard much about the project.

“[The project] sounds cool. It’s good to try to get more people into the town, but I think there should be better advertising. I would go [downtown] more often if I knew what was going on downtown,” Rachel Borkowski, freshman engineering major, said.

Funding a project like this is not cheap. Currently, Statesboro is in a competition titled “America’s Best Communities” sponsored by Frontier Communications, Dish Network, CoBank and the Weather Channel. According to the website, the goal of the competition is to invest in communities to help spur economic growth and community revitalization.

Statesboro is a semi-finalist in the competition and is among fourteen other communities vying for a $3 million prize. The city has already won $60,000 and that money has been implemented in various engineering studies, focusing on adding sidewalks, bicycle paths, and tree planting.

In order to eventually win, Denton says the current focus is on social media.

“The most important thing [students] can do right now is go out and like us on Facebook and go out and look at our Twitter feeds. The way that we’re going to win this contest is if we can prove that we in Statesboro really want to win this contest and that we care about this project,” Denton said.

Photo courtesy of Blue Mile Facebook Page.