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Businesses, construction still booming in Hinesville
Mayor Allen Brown
Mayor Allen Brown

The revitalization of downtown Hinesville will continue, and may even get more emphasis, city officials said Thursday.

The Liberty County Chamber of Commerce held its annual state of the city address at its monthly Progress Through People luncheon, and members got updated on how much Hinesville has grown in recent years — and what lies ahead with more anticipated growth.

“We’ve had tremendous growth in the city,” said City Manager Kenneth Howard, who pointed the effect of the Oglethorpe Square project on the city.

Howard said the reborn Small World Festival, which is set for March 9, 2024, was a success, drawing nearly 5,000 people to downtown Hinesville. Howard said the festival is a signature event for the city.

“It is so critically important we continue to focus on downtown,” he said. “As so goes your downtown, so goes your entire city.”

The number of new businesses and new construction in the city continues at a rapid pace. In 2023 alone, the city added 152 new businesses and has added 105 new businesses for each of the last five years.

“I grew up in Hinesville. We didn’t even have 50 businesses,” Mayor Allen Brown said. “And now we have 152 in one year.”

The building sector also remains strong. There were 274 new residential and commercial building permits issued in the city for 2023, totaling $95.1 million in investment, a 16.5% increase from 2022.

Brown also pointed to the council reducing its millage over the years. The city’s overall budget is nearly $51 million, and its general fund budget is $26.7 million. While the budget has grown, the millage rate for property taxes has been cut from 11.51 in 2014 to 10.15 in 2023, he noted.

The recent small business incubator opening also shows the city’s commitment to growing small businesses, according to Howard. The recently- opened incubator, across Memorial Drive from the Georgia Southern campus in Hinesville, will support first-time entrepreneurs, growing companies and vendors.

“It took heavy lifting, a lot of heavy lifting, to get where we are,” Howard said.

At the facility, technical assistance and financial resources can be provided to start-ups and other nascent enterprises. “Small business in any community is important,”

Howard said.

The Hinesville Fire Department’s new station, opened this summer, was done not with a ribbon cutting but with an uncoupling of fire hoses. The new station was dedicated to late fire marshal Earnest “Moe” McDuffie, the city’s first Black fire marshal.

“Grand opening was a theme for this year,” Howard said.

On the site of the old station, which has been razed, the HFD’s new administrative building is going up and is scheduled to be completed in May 2024. The city’s fire department also is working on a fire training facility, on five acres donated by the Liberty County Development Authority. A three-story training building is planned for the site, and the city is partnering with the Georgia Fire Academy, along with public and private fire fighting outfits to conduct training.

The next phases of Krebs Park, to include playgrounds and exercise stations, are expected to be completed by May 2024. The first phase of the park, started in March 2022, was finished this June and a planned section of tennis courts was turned into a pickleball court — which quickly became overwhelmed with players of the growing sport.

Because of the demand, the city is putting in six more pickleball courts.

“Within months, we were bombarded with requests for additional opportunities to play,” Howard said.

Also included in that phase are a pavilion, bathrooms and a skate park. The cost of the initial phase was $1.16 million and the second phase is projected to cost just under $800,000, funded through special local option sales tax proceeds.

“We’re excited about what’s going on out there,” Howard said.

The city also is attempting to address affordable housing and has a three-phase approach to rebuilding the Azalea Street neighborhood. The first phase built seven single- family homes, with townhomes. The second phase built 14 single-family homes. The third phase, split into two, calls for six single-family homes, with two to be designed for low-to-moderate income families, and a final piece of seven single-family homes for low-to-moderate incomes.

“We don’t have enough affordable housing in Hinesville,” Howard said.

The city is partnering with the Hinesville Housing Authority on those last seven homes and is partnering with the HHA for 70 apartment units in another project. As the city expects and projects more growth in the coming years, and for its neighboring cities it serves with utilities, it plans on expanding its water reclamation facility from 2 million gallons per day to 4 million gallons per day. Howard said the expanded capacity will be needed into 2024-25, but the cost is steep — about $26 million.

To keep with its demand for water and to get ahead of what might be needed in the future, the city has partnered with Long County for a well in Long County not far from the city limits. Hinesville and Liberty County are in what are called yellow zones, meaning its groundwater withdrawal capacity is limited. Long County is in a green zone, where there are no restrictions.

“The green well zone is out of necessity,” Howard said. “Right now, we have a capacity issue.”

Permits are being prepared for the state Environmental Protection Division and work on the well could start in spring of 2024 and then be operational in the fall of 2024.

The state of the city address was the last for Brown, who cannot serve again because of term limits. His second four-year term is ending, and coupled with his initial time as mayor, he served 16 years as the city’s chief executive.

“This is my last rodeo,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it. And being mayor of your hometown is a big deal. I’m humbled and thankful to be able to do that.”

Brown also praised the work of the Military Affairs Coalition and lauded Council member Jason Floyd for pushing for the youth council.

“Jason helped us into this program and it’s alive and well,” Brown said. “We really love our youth.”

Liberty County Commissioner Gary Gilliard, who also is an executive with the city’s public works contractor, recalled how Brown as a coach helped ease the path for Blacks in the days following the end of segregation.

“Politics is bringing everyone together,” Gilliard said, “and no one did it better than Allen Brown. If he ran again, my entire family would vote for him.”

“We really have achieved a lot in the last eight years,” Howard added.

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