The Oconee County Industrial Development Authority Subcommittee on the Gateway Technology and Business Park met for nearly an hour on Monday without producing any sign of consensus on how to respond to an expression of interest for land in the Gateway property.
Rick Waller, who is chair of the IDA, favors constructing a building to sell or lease to the possible tenant as a way for the IDA to make money.
J.R. Charles, the county’s Economic Development director, recommended that the IDA sell the land so that the prospect, rather than the county, has the risk associated with the project.
IDA member Don Phillips said the group shouldn’t do anything until it puts in water, sewer and a roadway to the property. He said the county also needs to figure out what the land is worth.
Agreement On Questions To Answer
In the end, the Subcommittee agreed to initiate design work for the infrastructure and to get an appraisal.
It also agreed to ask County Attorney Daniel Haygood to answer another question that should help inform a future decision on how to respond to what is being labeled only as Project Sauce.
When the county agreed to buy the property in 1997, it agreed to pay to the former owner one half of the profit on any portion of the property sold to another party.
The Subcommittee members decided to ask Haygood to tell them if that condition would apply to a lease.
Charles told the Subcommittee that the prospective firm is looking for a 60,000-square-foot-facility that would bring 50 jobs to the area.
|John Daniell and Don Phillips|
Of those 50 jobs, 25 would be transferred in from another location, and 25 would be new hires.
Charles said 15 of the 50 employees would be in management, and 35 would be “line” workers.
The former would earn $40,000 to $50,000 per year, and the latter would be making $14 to $15 per hour, he said.
Charles said at a meeting of the Subcommittee on Oct. 31 that the company is interested in buying five acres of land in the park or leasing a building.
The plant would not be producing industrial sewage, he said at the meeting on Monday.
In February of 1997 the county signed an agreement with Cathryn Branam and Rintha Branam, then living in Gwinnett County, to sell to the county 123 acres in four separate tracts along SR 316 on the southwestern edge of Bogart.
The stipulation that the county give the Branams half of the profit from the future sale of the land was part of that agreement.
Sale price for the property, when the county finally went forward with the purchase on Jan. 14, 2000, was $1,143,830.
Two of the tracts lie north of SR 316, and two smaller ones lie south of SR 316. None of the properties is contiguous with another of the remaining three.
The 1997 agreement with the Branams was not--until the meeting on Monday--a prominent part of public discussions about Gateway.
County Attorney Haygood told me in an email message on Tuesday that former Board of Commissioners Chair Wendell Dawson wanted to purchase the property “to guarantee that Oconee County would have interchanges off GA 316 and thought this was a good location for one.”
Haygood, who was serving as county attorney at the time, also gave me copies of the purchase agreements.
The Oconee County Industrial Development Authority agreed to acquire the property on behalf of the county in that 1997 agreement.
In 2000, the county decided to convert the property into what is now Gateway Technology Business Park.
The county has tried unsuccessfully in recent years to purchase additional land to link the properties and has tried to negotiate sales in the past with a number of possible purchasers.
At present, the park has only one tenant, Alexion Pharma, which earlier this year backed out of an agreement to expand into the property that the Authority is now trying to use to entice Project Sauce to the county.
Waller asked Charles how the IDA could determine whether it was better to sell the property or to build a building and lease it to the interested company.
“I would let the company buy the dirt and build their own building and take the risk on themselves,” Charles said.
After some gap, Waller said “I’m still hung up on, well, I don’t know if hung up in the right way to put it, but I’m still trying to find a way for the IDA to generate revenue without having to, you might say, borrow money or get money from the county or do a bond or whatever else.”
“How long’s the county been owning that property?” Phillips asked.
“Since I was a child,” IDA member Matt Elder said.
According to county voting records, Elder was born in 1969, so that is a bit of an exaggeration.
Roads And Sewer
Whether the county leases or sells, “you’ve still got to develop it,” Phillips said. “You have to be able to get in and out of the property.”
“We need to get this sewer thing figured out,” he added. “And then start getting some numbers together to get the road in.”
Subcommittee Chair John Daniell, who is chair of the Board of Commissioners, didn’t give much of a sense of his inclination.
Elder spoke of the benefits of selling and of leasing.
IDA member Janet Jones said little during the discussion.
More Money For Gateway?
During the regular meeting of the IDA, which followed the Subcommittee meeting, Waller asked County Finance Director Wes Geddings whether it would be possible to divert unspent money borrowed for the Parkway Boulevard project to Gateway.
Geddings, in his financial report, said he expects about $450,000 to remain after all bills are paid for the construction of Parkway Boulevard, which links Epps Bridge Parkway with the Oconee Connector.
The original plan, Geddings said, was to have $250,000 remaining for beautification of Mars Hill Road and Parkway Boulevard itself.
Geddings said the balance could be used to pay down the debt on the $4.3 million bond or to increase spending on the highway beautification.
Waller asked Geddings to determine if the money could be used for another purpose.
Video Of Subcommittee
The video of the Subcommittee meeting is below. The meeting took place in the Chamber of Commerce Office in Watkinsville.
I did attend the meeting, but Sarah Bell recorded the video.
The dialog is quite slow to develop.
The recommendation of Charles to sell the property is at 18:05.
Waller responds at 21:25.
Phillips offered his perspective at 25:02.
Video of Full IDA
I left the subcommittee meeting to attend the meeting of the Board of Education.
Sarah Bell remained and video recorded the regular meeting of the IDA, which is below.
Waller’s question about the remaining money from the Parkway Boulevard construction is at 8:25 in the video.