The Baldwin County Commission has advertised a special meeting July 25 to consider an agreement to transfer a portion of the South Alabama Mega Site to the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance.
Today, BCEDA President and CEO Lee Lawson said the Alliance is interested in making infrastructure improvements to 200 acres of the 3,000-acre site to attract a potential unidentified tenant.
“There was a law passed about three years ago that allows individuals and corporate entities with Alabama income tax liabilities to ‘donate’ money for site improvements for economic development to local economic development organizations (LEDOs) and then get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit out of it,” Lawson explained. “But to do that, the LEDO has to own the property.”
The application for the Department of Commerce program, the Growing Alabama Credit, is due July 30. Lawson said the Alliance is seeking $7 million to pay for a 1.5-mile long rail spur, an industrial access road, gradient work and a 1 million square-foot building pad. If the application is approved, the Alliance will have 60 days to raise the money from qualified individuals or corporate entities.
The work on the building pad will be limited to soil compaction and erosion control typically required as part of the groundbreaking process for “advanced manufacturing,” Lawson said, but no concrete will be poured.
“Ideally a project can come in right behind us and build-out on the building pad and the graded site,” he said. “We’re essentially removing a year’s worth of site work in this timeline for a potential project or prospect looking at our site.”
Asked if the application is being sought as a requirement of a tentative development deal, Lawson said “you definitely can assume … but we’ve had an active project at the site for the last five years. We can’t comment on those, but the 200-plus acres we’re improving and enhancing is the sweet spot of the [Mega Site] and multiple projects have gravitated toward that area.”
The application requires LEOs to obtain three quotes for the work and the project was already bid out to Volkert Engineering, Lawson said. “There’s several steps in place with this deal … but we think we have a really good project and a really good site and this is $7 million of site work that doesn’t come from public funds so I think it’s a great benefit to making it competitive.”
Both Lawson and County Commissioner Joe Davis said the property will be transferred back to the county after the terms of the agreement are fulfilled, a process Lawson said is expected to take a year or less. Davis said the county will continue to make annual payments on the property, which it initially purchased for $32 million in 2012 and currently pays about $2 million per year on the debt.
Citing confidentiality in economic development negotiations, Davis also declined to name a potential tenant, but said the proposal has been discussed in executive session and the South Alabama Mega Site remains “on the short list for major industries.”
“I don’t ask a lot of questions, I don’t have to know what companies are interested because I have full confidence in Lee, his team and our legal staff, but this particular step is facilitating our ability to make the site more attractive,” Davis said. “Hopefully we’ll land an important, game-changing job creator for our region.”
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