The Columbia County Development Authority is mulling over a marriage proposal from a private developer that would provide a dowry of land for industrial development.
The county plans to tie the knot to form a public-private partnership to develop 260 acres near Chamblin Road and Interstate 20 as an industrial park. The rezoning of the land goes to the Columbia County Commission today for final approval.
On Sept. 7, the county planning commission voted 3-2 to rezone the property - which will be called Horizon North Industrial Park - from light industrial and residential to general industrial.
The agreement hinges on the zoning approval and an industrial prospect that would build a 100,000-square-foot plant on a 32-acre parcel off Lewiston Road.
Officials are sending the public on a blind date and will not name the company until the deal is sealed.
"There is a major client pushing to locate on this site," Development Authority Chairman Ron Thigpen said. "If I didn't know beans about economic development, I would have no doubt that this was the right thing to do for Columbia County. We're committed to making this happen, and when it's announced it will be readily apparent why we are in support of this project."
Mr. Thigpen said only that the prospect is an assembly and distribution operation that was attracted to the site because of its proximity to I-20 and utility lines.
Commercial real estate agent Vic Mills said the park would serve as a sister site to the county's Horizon South Industrial Park near Grovetown. That park is fully developed, and officials began looking for another site earlier this year.
The Horizon North tract was one of several submitted when the Development Authority advertised for property to be considered for a new park, Mr. Thigpen said.
Mr. Mills said he and the Grimaud family, who own the land, pitched the site to the authority and have been working with officials to hammer out an agreement.
But as with any good marriage, it's a give and take.
In exchange for the industrial land, the developers are asking the county to build a one-mile road connecting Lewiston and Chamblin roads running parallel to I-20. Mr. Thigpen said the county likely would have built the road anyway.
The county's growth management plan, he said, recommends the county build frontage roads along I-20 to connect the Appling exit to Lewiston Road. Mr. Thigpen said county authorities are examining how special purpose local option sales tax funds earmarked for economic development could be used to pay for the road. Construction cost of the road has not been determined.
"If the county is going to be building the road five years from now anyway, then for us to go ahead and build it and get 200 acres of industrial land in the process, then that is a major home run for Columbia County," Mr. Thigpen said.
The Development Authority's marketing efforts stalled earlier this year when Horizon South became full and no other land was available.
Mr. Thigpen said he believes a public-private partnership is the answer to the county's industrial land issue because it would allow the county to market the land for industrial uses while shifting liability to private developers rather than taxpayers.
The Horizon South project costs about $7.5 million to develop, whereas the major outlay on Horizon Northwould be the cost of the road.
"If it doesn't work out, then we won't have put up $5 million, $6 million or $7 million in the process," Mr. Thigpen said. "There's no upfront risk for us."
The proposed road would provide I-20 access in addition to opening property on the other side of the interstate to potential industrial development, he said.
Mr. Thigpen said the county would not move forward with the proposal until a contract with the industrial prospect was signed. He said he expects a final agreement by the end of the month.
Construction on the plant would begin immediately thereafter, with operations expected to begin in May.
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.
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