MILLEDGEVILLE — A communiversity is a community-based public-private partnership that encourages community learning, entrepreneurism and economic development. Pending final signatures, the Shaw Building will become Milledgeville's version.
The National Association of Communiversities (NAC) was officially launched Wednesday at Featherbone Communiversity of Gainesville, Ga., according to a press release from Gus Whalen representing the Warren Featherbone Foundation. The Milledgeville-Baldwin County Communiversity (MBC) signed on with four others.
The NAC is an affiliation of communiversities that operate independently but have formalized collaborative Declarations of Interdependence.
Co-founders of the association are Featherbone, Bonner County Communiversity of Sandpoint, Idaho, Chaffey College of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. and Community Futures Boundary, Grand Forks, British Columbia, Canada.
Georgia College Associate Professor of Marketing Renée J. Fontenot, Ph.D. said this was good news for the future of a Milledgeville educational and innovation center.
“We will work to foster future best practices together. It's not a declaration that we have the Shaw Building or any other place,” Fontenot said. “Collaboration is important for certain grants. There is always better information the more people that contribute.”
Like Milledgeville, many of the NAC members don't have a physical location to date.
Joining the association is conceptual early planning, according to Fontenot.
Fontenot hopes the Shaw Building deal gets done, and the city holds up what they previously voted to support.
Milledgeville Mayor Richard Bentley said an agreement is all but complete.
“It's in place as far as the concept is concerned. As with anything else, the attorneys from both parties are working out the details and language. We look forward and are anticipating an Oct. 1 transition to the Shaw Building,” Bentley said. “I'm pleased and anticipate great things with the Featherbone partnership. If we can replicate in any form what they have up there, it will be a great benefit and addition to the community.”
Over three months ago the City of Milledgeville and Solar Zones, LLC. engaged in public-private negotiations for the repurposing of the Shaw Building as the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Communiversity.
During an Aug. 13 Milledgeville City Council work session, David Sinclair, who assists the Central State Hospital redevelopment efforts and is acting Solar Zones chairman, said the city shot down the 50/50 joint Shaw venture saying they had no money to put toward the project.
Sinclair wanted to lease-purchase the 93,000 square foot building. Unfortunately, the city wasn't in a position to personally hand over the keys.
City Attorney Jimmy Jordan said the city could convey property to another governmental entity or authority such as the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Development Authority.
“The complication to this whole issue is the fact that it's a municipal building, and there are certain things we have to do in order to convey it. We fully expect to have this in operation Monday or Tuesday. It's something that will happen,” the mayor said.
The city is prepared to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding assigning the Development Authority as the Shaw lease conduit.
Solar Zones will lease-purchase the building for $450,000.
“It's the way we want to have it. We want a good relationship with the city,” Sinclair said. “As I spend money on the building, I'll get dollar points going toward the purchase price. I'll have lease on the building but won't actually be paying a monthly lease.”
Gainesville's Featherbone Communiversity is the Milledgeville blueprint. Sinclair and Fontenot have worked directly Whalen trying to translate that success into a tangible local center for developing career, educational and entrepreneurial endeavors.
“Each community defines what a communiversity is for them. What we want in Baldwin County is both a symbolic and physical presence. It's a way of giving us that unified place to support each other. If we are going to revitalize the south side, the communiversity is a way to do that,” Fontenot said.
The Shaw Building's 93,000 square feet could harbor a convention center, manufacturing facilities, classrooms, business incubation space, art studio and tech hub to name a few proposals.
Committed parties include the Milledgeville Players, the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority, Central Georgia Technical College, the Baldwin Investment group and Perpetual Motion, LLC.
The Players and Perpetual Motion already have significant funds allotted for the venture project.
Sinclair said the MBC would be formed as a 501(c)(3).
“I'm hoping if they give me the keys I'll be started by the end of October,” Sinclair said. “I'm happy with where we are. It's been a bumpy road.”
Phase 1 is enabling work making future construction possible. Sinclair said the Georgia Power transformers must be removed to start.
Also, major ceiling ductwork previously installed for Shaw manufacturing are coming out. Roof cooling towers and equipment will be removed during the enabling phase projected to last three months.
“We are trying to de-industrialize the building,” Sinclair said.
The Players' 200-seat theater comes as Phase 2.
“The theater will be basically a unit on its own serviced by its own heating and ventilation system,” Sinclair said.
Expect a 1-megawatt solar panel system on the cleared roof later in the process. Sinclair wants Shaw as energy efficient as possible.
Diverse entrepreneurs are all coming together with a singular goal.
“The dream is beginning to feel like a reality. Our community needs that reality. The time is now,” Fontenot said.
Bentley echoed that sentiment. The MBC puts weight behind a progressive and creative building reuse.
“I'm ready to get that thing started. I want to see some activity, and I know the public does too,” Bentley said.
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