Oconee County has not yet received a signed contract back from Alexion Pharma LLC of New Haven, Conn., for the sale of 38 acres in its Gateway Technology Business Park south of Bogart.
J.R. Charles, Oconee County economic development director, said he is not expecting a decision until late summer.
The sale of the property, which has occupied recent meetings of the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority, owners of the business park, came up only indirectly at the group’s meeting last month.
The Authority did vote to go into executive session for some unspecified reason at the end of its regular February session, and it is possible the sale was discussed at that time.
The Authority is scheduled to meet again at 4 p.m. tomorrow (Monday) at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce offices on Nancy Drive in Watkinsville.
The Authority agreed after two sessions closed to the public in December to sell the 38 acres in the eastern part its Gateway Technology Business Park for roughly $760,000 to Alexion Pharma LLC, the parent company of Synageva BioPharma Corp.
Synageva has a pharmaceutical production and research operation on 11 acres adjoining the 38 acres of undeveloped property.
Discussion of the sale of the 38 acres and the potential sale of the western portion of the Gateway property dominated the January meeting of the IDA.
IDA Chair Rick Waller told the group at that January meeting that the county had not yet received the signed contract from Alexion but he remained optimistic that the deal will go through.
The contract the IDA sent to Alexion agreed to sell the property at 1041 Aiken Road south of Bogart for $20,000 an acre, with the exact acreage to be purchased based on the actual acreage shown in a new survey of the property minus areas determined by Alexion to be wetlands.
Waller said at the January meeting that the original amount the IDA sought for the property was $25,000 per acre but the IDA moved to the lower price when Alexion agreed to purchase all of the property.
The Authority held an executive session lasting 1 hour and 40 minutes on Dec. 12 and another lasting 46 minutes on Dec. 14 to reach agreement on the sale.
No Mention In February
Neither Waller nor anyone else mentioned the pending agreement with Alexion at the Feb. 13 meeting of the IDA.
Economic Development Director Charles told me in a conversation in his office on March 2 that he is not expecting an agreement until late summer. Charles has promised to produce a news release and inform me when the deal is complete.
While state law requires government authorities to reveal the broad topics to be discussed in executive session, the Authority, at Waller’s urging, went into executive session at the end of the February meeting without stating a purpose.
“We’ve got some other items we need to address in executive session,” Waller said, and the motion to go into executive session did not state the purpose.
The front half of the February meeting consisted of a presentation by Emil Beshara, county Public Works director, of construction work on Parkway Boulevard Extension, which the county, through the IDA, is building to promote additional commercial growth along the Oconee Connector.
|Beshara On Parkway Boulevard Extension|
Beshara told the Authority, as he repeated a few days later before the regional transportation planning authority, that he expected work on the project to be completed by the end of this month (March).
Beshara told the IDA members that the roadway crosses “some fairly challenging terrain,” and much of the discussion was of a large box culvert built to allow the new roadway to cross a creek running through the property.
The 10-foot-by-10-foot culvert will allow the unnamed stream to flow to McNutt Creek.
The stream drains what Beshara called “a fairly substantial basin,” with the creek starting outside SR Loop 10.
“When we get a deluge of water, the creek runs very high and fast,” Beshara said.
Though the contract with Alexion did not come up at the February meeting, the process that produced it did.
County Attorney Daniel Haygood was asked by Waller to discuss the ways the Authority in the future might deal with land purchase contracts.
“The model that we’ve had previously has been that the chairman goes forward and negotiates contracts and brings the results to the board,” Haygood said, referring to the Authority as the board. “And I’ll just observe that I don’t think that made everybody happy with the last go around.”
Haygood said that while there generally is a “more collegial” approach to decision making today than in the past in nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies, that kind of decision-making can create problems.
“Companies generally don’t want a lot of people involved when its an economic development project,” Haygood said. “They want to keep the circle tight. They don’t want information getting out.”
Haygood said companies want nondisclosure agreements signed by everyone involved in the negotiations over land deals such as the one involving the Authority’s sale of land to Alexion.
He provided the Authority with four options.
The IDA could continue to allow the chair do the negotiations and bring the agreement back to the Authority for final approval, as is the case at present.
The second option would be for all 11 Authority members to sign a nondisclosure agreement and be involved in the entire process.
The Authority could appoint a smaller committee to deal with real estate transactions, Haygood said, and those members would sign a nondisclosure agreement.
The final option identified by Haygood was an ethics ordinance that prohibited nondisclosure by Authority members of things that take place in executive session.
Haygood was suspicious that the fourth option would not be acceptable to companies involved in the discussions.
Waller said he would do whatever the Authority members agreed to, but he thought more time was needed to reach a decision.
The Authority took no action on Haygood’s suggestions.
I was not able to attend the February IDA meeting, but Sarah Bell did attend and video recorded the session.
That video is below.
The comments by Beshara begin at 1:25 in the video and end at 30:30.
Haygood's comments are the final item of the meeting, which, excluding the executive session, ran just less than 55 minutes.