The final nine mile Baldwin County Fall Line Freeway construction joining the long-awaited roadway with U.S. Highway 441 near the Wilkinson County border brought talk of a joint Fall Line Regional Development Authority (FLRDA) industrial park.
Phase 1 of the jointly owned park has a dedicated funding mechanism of $50,000 per year for the first 20 years from Norfolk Southern increasing to $100,000 for the next 20 years.
Buying the state property is the first and currently vexing step.
Vested parties, including Milledgeville-Baldwin County Development Authority Executive Director Matt Poyner, made trips to the capitol during the recent legislative session negotiating purchase of the state-owned land.
The local consultant and State Properties Commission (SPC) appraisal numbers don’t match. Executive Director of the Wilkinson County Development Authority Jonathan Jackson said there is a $600,000 disparity between the state’s highest appraisal and the FLRDA’s lowest.
Preliminary maps for the Wilkinson park show 119 usable acres (140 total) divided into eight parcels. The Baldwin side has 217 usable acres (305 total) across 11 parcels varying from six to 70 acres.
“They are asking a price for this land that we feel is not reasonable. They’ve had their appraisals, and we’ve had our appraisals done. We realize we can’t get it for free, but at the same token it’d be nice to have some common ground,” Poyner said.
SPC spokesman Paul Melvin said the property acquisition stands still while negotiations continue. The state has no current or planned use for the land but wants what it sees as fair market value.
“We need to stay close to those appraisal values,” Melvin said. “That’s what we work from.”
The state appraised the four Phase 1 tracts and took into account proposed Fall Line construction throughout the area, according to the SPC.
“It’s our understanding that the local appraisal included the entire property. I think that’s where the difference is in the value,” Melvin said.
Jackson said different options were presented.
“One was to ask the state take their low bid and our low bid and split the difference. That’s certainly acceptable to the development authority, but we didn’t seem to get any traction,” he said. “I believe it’s solvable, but right now we are just not there.”
Environmental studies costing $100,000 were completed. Poyner said the SPC requested more on projected impact as well.
The Middle Georgia Regional Commission will complete a property feasibility study and economic impact analysis.
“We will be able to show the state if we do XYZ with the property we feel like in time we can have this many jobs or this much investment just to have a master plan going forward,” Poyner said.
State Sen. Burt Jones, District 25, is involved with the process.
He said the state holds all the cards because it owns the property and he hopes the SPC offers a number to trade on.
“I’m representing the folks in my district but at the same time looking at this from a practical third party standpoint. We’ve got use for the property in Baldwin and Wilkinson County, and the state does not. It doesn’t have future plans for it, and we do,” Jones said. “We feel locals have the best plan in place. We just need direction on how we can come to an agreement and get started.”
Poyner said the Fall Line Industrial Park includes big land tracts attractive to major companies, but the local development authority can’t market them without buying first.
“Our opportunity to buy it ends the last day of next year’s session,” Poyner said. “We’ll be in contact with the state quite a bit between now and next year to see what we can do to make this work.”
The FLRDA has a real estate option that protects it until the end of the 2014 session. Jackson isn’t worried about extending the option for another three years.
The project must stay on the SPC radar for a solution instead of the current stagnant state. Jones said no one has made a formal offer.
“If the state can agree on our terms of how to get paid, we can move forward. I think that’s where we are right now,” the senator said. “That land isn’t going anywhere. Let us get it ready for some kind of development as we acquire takers for the property.”
Jones added it’s either make a deal with the FLRDA or move to Plan B.
“If we can’t come up with a compromise, they need to let us know, so we can look at other options. We are wasting a lot of people’s time and resources just negotiating this,” Jones said.
Poyner said the SPC understands the local frustration. Currently, this deal is like some other state properties in Baldwin County that don’t seem to be going anywhere.
“They feel for us,” he said. “It’s going to be tough to get our hands around.”
Melvin mentioned job creation and the support for local industry factors.
“We want to support local industry and creation of jobs,” Melvin said. “I know the state is sensitive to the needs of the local economy and certainly wants to work something out.”
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