Golden Triangle Development LINK Chief Executive Officer Joe Max Higgins said his team is close to unveiling its plan for a new industrial park in Oktibbeha County after recent developments significantly impacted the Columbus-based firm’s pitch.
Without delving into details about the specific problems, Higgins said the LINK has faced “earth-shattering changes, not all necessarily for the good” in the last two weeks as officials tried to put the last touches on its upcoming presentation.
The LINK is expected to discuss the proposed park with its executive council Tuesday, and the LINK CEO said a public information session could be scheduled shortly after.
“Part of the process is to make sure everyone understands the impact and the concerns,” he said. “(Finding a site to develop into an industrial park) has not been an easy process.”
The LINK was expected to unveil a 400-acre industrial park plan to community stakeholders last month, but that session was postponed so officials could continue gathering cost estimates.
In December, Higgins confirmed various parcels associated with the site were under option for purchase, and the organization had handshake deals in place to bring 50 megawatts of power and a speculative building to the site.
The power commitment made by 4-County Electric Power Association is 30 times the capacity of Cornerstone Park’s 2 megawatt load. The deal in place for the speculative building, Higgins said in December, would construct a 75,000-square-foot facility with the option to increase its size in the future.
It is unknown if those two deals are still on the table, and Higgins would not comment about park specifics before the public unveiling.
“The LINK team has been working with engineers, utility companies, landowners and others involved in the project to complete some preliminary due diligence on the property, as well as the design and service capabilities of the contemplated industrial park to ensure that the park can be designed and constructed within the $14 million budget and that the new park, based upon such design and budget, will be capable of providing the amenities and service levels necessary to attract and locate desirable (tenants),” the LINK said in a January press release.
Higgins’ comments came Wednesday as he addressed Starkville aldermen’s decision to hire an outside firm for retail development. The LINK will continue to provide industrial development services for Oktibbeha County, and Higgins wished the city luck with its new agreement with the Birmingham, Alabama-based Retail Strategies LLC.
Before the city approved the contract Tuesday, Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins blasted the LINK for failing to deliver meaningful economic development results in Starkville.
He asked a Retail Strategies representative present Tuesday to “help actually locate retail development” instead of treating its agreement with the city as hollow paperwork, spend significant time in Starkville and provide routine updates to elected officials.
Perkins then said he hoped to cancel the LINK’s industrial development contract in the future, saying he would vote to give it to Retail Strategies if the organization finds success in Starkville.
Together, the city, county and Greater Starkville Development Partnership together provide the LINK about $350,000 annually for its services. Retail development duties were explicitly defined in a memo issued by the LINK after the contract was signed.
Tensions between the board and the LINK became public after Higgins chastised aldermen for not discussing the upcoming $11 million Academy Sports investment and its required tax increment financing (TIF) package in executive session in December.
At the time, he said aldermen “kept the bat on their shoulders” and could have delayed the developer’s groundbreaking by a month by not discussing the matter.
Higgins took exception with Perkins’ Tuesday accusation that the LINK did not actively work retail deals and cited the numerous billable hours LINK Chief Operating Officer Joey Deason spent on the Mill at MSU, Parker-McGill automotive dealership and other successful efforts.
He also cited the LINK’s regular meetings with Mayor Parker Wiseman and Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer in defense against Perkins’ insinuation that the LINK doesn’t update its clients.
“(Perkins) is thinking we need to come up there and give public reports. Just by the nature of our business, that isn’t ever going to happen. Quite frankly, we don’t report day to day about what we’re working on. It’s when the project is ready to go that we bring it out,” Higgins said. “In a small town, the tendency is elected officials want to know every little detail as it goes along, and that’s probably why the deals don’t happen. When details lead … all kinds of problems occur.
“Since day one on the retail side, there have been issues. (Aldermen) won’t attend one-on-one meetings and they won’t allow us to present our stuff in executive session,” he added. “At the end of the day, I think we communicate with (Starkville and Oktibbeha County officials) as much as we communicate with the leaders of Lowndes and Clay counties.”
The LINK will continue to provide retail development services in Lowndes and Clay counties and industrial recruitment for the entire Golden Triangle.
Overall Industrial recruitment efforts should not be impacted by Starkville’s retail decision since industrial success hinges on developing an industrial park capable of supporting tenants.
Still, the reverberations are being noticed by the outside world. A business looking to build a speculative building in the Golden Triangle has concerns about the public escalation of tensions in Oktibbeha County, he said.
“‘We’re watching all of this noise. This noise concerns us, and I think we’re going to wait,'” Higgins said the business representative told him during a Wednesday morning phone call. “It’s a small impact, but the noise, I think, is trying to figure out if (Starkville aldermen, Oktibbeha County supervisors, the LINK and developers) are going to be able to play in the same sandbox together. I don’t think anything was done last night that would have an adverse impact on industrial development.
“Everyone is asking what does (losing retail development) mean. I say I don’t know, because it just happened last night,” Higgins said. “Any time something changes, I think it changes the nature of the relationship. The questions now are how long and how bad. I don’t think any of us will know until some time expires. At the end of the day, this is probably best for everyone.”
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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