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Downtown business incubator proposed
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The old brick building, center, at West M.L. King Jr. Drive and South Main Street in Hinesville, could one day house a business incubator. - photo by Photo by Tiffany King

The old brick building on the corner of West M.L King Jr. Drive and South Main Street may see new life again. 
The building, which housed the Hinesville Next Step Program, part of the Homeless Prevention Program, might be the new site of a business incubator.
Kenneth Howard, the executive director of the Hinesville Development Authority, recently presented the proposal to the Liberty County Board of Commissioners. Howard defined a business incubator as a place where several businesses are housed in a flexible space under one roof, the landlord of which receives reasonable rent. Businesses would have access to shared services, equipment and networking opportunities.
“They could feed off of one another, share expertise that they may have. They will also have access to technical assistance,” Howard said. 
Other benefits he listed were: participating businesses having increased chances for success, the shared costs of utilities and equipment, peer support and job creation. 
“There are a lot of aspiring, new businesses here, but some of them don’t have the capacity where they could purchase or lease a facility,” he said. “So this would allow them to utilize a common area where they can start their business.” 
Businesses will stay in the building for a specified period until they are able to move out and expand on their own. 
Howard said Hinesville receives Community Development Block Grant funds. The project would eligible, under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to get an average of five years of annual allocation upfront. 
“Our annual allocation right now is at $200,000 that we get from the federal government. We can get $1 million for this project,” he said. “This project and another project — redeveloping Bradwell Park — but we can get the necessary funds to complete the renovations of this facility.”
The cost estimate is currently $50,000 to renovate the building. Howard said there will be some revenue gained from the rental and leasing of the building. Funds also would go toward improving the exterior of the building, such as the vacant lot next to it. Howard suggested the lot could be converted into a courtyard, have a mural or outdoor dining to accommodate a deli shop. 
The commissioners were shown pictures of the interior and exterior of the building. Howard said there would be an intergovernmental agreement between the city and county, with HDA spearheading the project.
Commissioner Marion Stevens Sr. asked who will be responsible for determining what businesses go in the building. Howard said the two government bodies would decide, and those steps would be explained in the agreement. 
Commissioner Gary Gilliard was concerned over the beams supporting the walls of the building next to it, where Merritt and Grinstead Trial Lawyers office is located. Howard said the wall is stable and suggested a seating arrangement or walkway on that side. 
Commissioner Eddie Walden said he’s concerned that the building is not taxable, because it is owned by the county, but that he would support the proposal if the building is sold. 
Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette then also showed interested in selling the building, which he said could reach the same purpose of being used as a business incubator. Lovette said staff will check with County Attorney Kelly Davis and revisit the proposal.

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