It’s pretty quiet these days at the old KiOR site on the Island.
That’s the whole problem, says Joe Max Higgins, CEO of the Golden Triangle Development LINK.
Higgins said his efforts to market the KiOR site have been hampered by delays in clearing the site of equipment and structures owned by the two companies that purchased the bulk of KiOR’s Columbus assets — Georgia Renewable Power and Renewable Energy Group — during a bankruptcy auction in October. Another company, Mathiston Gas has a small amount of equipment on the site as well.
“When KiOR was sold off, we made it clear that we wanted all of their stuff off the property by the end of (2015),” Higgins said Monday. “In the meantime, we’re in discussions with three companies — one from Russia, one from India and another from Asia — to use the KiOR site as part of a 100-acre site. There aren’t too many 100-acre sites on the Tenn-Tom waterway, so we feel it is a very good site.
“Since then, two of the three companies have pulled out and the other one says it plans to do site inspections in September and announce their decision in December. We are worried that if the site isn’t vacated soon, we’re not going to be able to show them a site that is not only presentable, but ready to develop.”
While Higgins stopped short of saying the delays in clearing the site were responsible for the other two companies eliminating the site, he said it could well have played a role in their decisions.
“One of the companies said there were two real concerns for them,” Higgins said. “The first was the tax-exemptions offered by Mississippi compared to sites in other states. The other was company officials didn’t think we could have the site cleared by June. I’m not saying that was the reason they didn’t choose us, but it was a detriment, to put it mildly.”
After KiOR’s property was sold at auction, the land on which the failed bio-fuels company occupied on The Island reverted to Lowndes County, with the Lowndes County Port Authority managing the property.
Higgins said the Port Authority granted the companies that bought the KiOR equipment an extension to clear the property to the end of March, without informing LINK officials.
“We could understand that,” Higgins said. “But these sort of decisions don’t exist in a vacuum. We should have been informed of the extension because we are out here trying to market this site and need to be informed. When I found out about the extension, I called the Port Authority and they said that really, they didn’t technically have to have the property cleared by the end of June.”
Port working with companies
Lowndes County Port Director Will Sanders said the port’s board of directors agree with Higgins’ desire to have the property cleared, but are working with the companies to facilitate an amicable, reasonable exit.
“We want them gone, too,” Sanders said. “We value our relationship with the LINK and we want to work with them to get the best company we can for this site. There should be no question about that.
“But we also want to work with the companies who own the equipment out there to make that transition. It took two, two-and-a-half years to build that plant. It’s going to take some time to do what we are requiring that they do.”
Sanders said the companies have had two three-month extensions, the latter of which will expire at the end of June. The Port Authority will have collected $150,000 in lease payments over that period.
“Our responsibility is a little different than Joe’s,” Sanders pointed out. “It is our job to produce income for the port and operate in the best interests of the port. While we understand his position, we have other interests, too. We want to find a solution that best meets all those interests. We want to be fair and realistic in what we do in this situation.”
Getting the property show-ready
Higgins said if the property is indeed cleared by the end of June, there would be ample time to get the site ready to show to potential long-term tenants.
“The only thing that should be left is some concrete pads, which wouldn’t take more than a month to clear,” Higgins said. “So it’s really important to us that those companies have their stuff off the property by the end of June.”
Sanders, who said demolition on the largest structure on the property started last week, isn’t sure the companies can meet that deadline.
“Sure, we would love to have them out of there by then. That’s our preference. But I don’t know that it’s feasible. You are talking about a pretty big job.”
Sanders said the port’s board has discussed a request from the companies to extend the basis on a month-to-month basis at a higher rate, but has yet to make a decision on that request.
Higgins said his concern is that the amount of rent being required is not high enough to be a real incentive for the companies to clear the site as soon as possible.
“My recommendation would be charging each of them $2,500 per day, starting July 1,” he said. “There has to be some real motivation for them to move because right now, it’s just not happening and that has some real impact on how we are able to market this property.”
Sanders, meanwhile, said even in its current state, the site is still very attractive.
“Look around,” he says. “This is a site accessible by water, rail, roads with all the infrastructure place. Water, sewer and access to TVA electricity. It’s a great site and we think it has great potential. Again, we want what Joe wants: To have the site cleared and ready for a new company. But even if the property was cleared tomorrow and another company came in, it’s a long process before work on that site would start.”
Higgins remains unconvinced.
“What I know, based on all the years of doing this job and what we’ve seen many, many times is that not having that site cleared is detrimental to our efforts to marketing the property. I know the Port Authority wants income: I get that. But I think they are thinking short-term on this. A few thousand dollars a month now instead of the millions of dollars that site could generate if we can make the kind of deal we want to make. I just think they’re looking at this all wrong.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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