Potential sites unveiled for future industrial park

Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

Three possible sites for an industrial park in Starkville were announced Monday during a GTR LINK work session at The Mill at MSU on Monday.

The sites are located near the Highway 82 and Highway 389 intersection in northwest Starkville; south of George M. Bryan airport; and just west of Highway 25 in south Starkville. The sites vary widely in acquisition and total project costs along with infrastructure needs.

LINK officials asked leaders to select two representatives each from the Starkville Board of Aldermen, the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors and Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority, to choose the best option within 45 days.

"Whoever you appoint to do this, you need to empower to make the decisions to represent your community," LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said. "We can't continue to do this rule by committee."

The largest site—in northwest Starkville—spans around 380 acres and would need $30 million to complete all improvements needed to market the site, according to the presentation.

The site near the airport, a 16 Section property, could reach up to 120 acres if purchased from the Oktibbeha County Consolidated School District. Total project costs for the site could total $6 million.

The Highway 25 site, dubbed Cornerstone, was previously in consideration and resurfaced as a 160 acre site after being priced at $225,000 for total project costs. The property is currently owned by OCEDA, and no bond would need to be issued to secure the property.

The smaller sites—Cornerstone and 16 Section—could be combined for a hybrid park separated by Highway 25 if officials decide to move away from the largest option, according to Higgins.

Going into the review process, LINK officials worked to narrow the list of prospective sites from 13 to three before presenting the information to local leaders. Officials categorized the problems facing a future industrial park: There is no operational railroad through the city, a limited electrical capacity to supply power, low levels of natural gas infrastructure and cultural resource mitigation costs associated with properly removing Native American artifacts from the area.

Previous attempts to purchase a property for an industrial zone stalled after cultural artifacts were found on the Innovation Park site and the removal costs totaled nearly $2 million to complete on a $10 million overall project budget. Officials also looked to secure the North Farm property from Mississippi State University, to no avail.

The most attractive option could be the largest option if officials can figure out a funding plan, Higgins said.

"It's the best thing for you to do but it's going to cost a boatload of money," Higgins said.

Proposed public money in the $30 million project option—just under $16 million—would be divided as $7 million contributions each from the city and county while Starkville Utilities would provide $1.5 million.

The site has existing water and sewer infrastructure and 4-County Electric stated it could build a 60 megawatt substation at no cost to the project to supply increased power capacity at the site.

The high cost stems from needing $10 million to extend the Atmos Engery natural gas infrastructure at the site and removal of all cultural artifacts form the site.

A deal may be contingent on the current private property owners agreeing to reduce land costs to offset cultural resource mitigation fees, officials said.

The 16 Section site would see a $3 million cost each by the city and county. The property is currently owned by the school district and any deal would rely on consultants securing a company to locate to the area before the property was sold. Power supplied to the area currently rests at 5 megawatts and no environmental evaluations have been completed at the site.

"You could have more power there than the land could support," Higgins said.

For Cornerstone, the site currently has electric and sewer infrastructure but extensions for both would be needed along with new roads to improve connectivity. The property could have the needed power of 10 to 20 megawatts by 2018, officials said, but it currently only has 4 megawatts of power supplied to the area.

Following the presentation, discussion of the need to improve the county's natural gas infrastructure was echoed by multiple officials. The $10 million natural gas improvements at the larger site would start to solve low usage problems in the county.

"At some point we are going to have to do something about gas," Higgins said. "We don't have gas at any of these three sites that can be used in substance."

Infrastructure extensions were key in determining what site could be selected, officials said.

"All in all we are talking with all of these projects, roughly 18 months to 2 years for you to hit the ground running," Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker said.

During the meeting, Public Service Commission Chairman Brandon Presley tweeted that the PSC "stands ready, willing and able to help with electric and natural gas issues" for a planned park. Atmos Energy has an agreement with the state to provide $5 million in economic development support projects.

OCEDA President Jack Wallace hoped the future park would blend with the county's continued growth.

"If we do not address the gas issue, are we not straining my grandchildren?" Wallace said. "I would really like us to look to the future for what this holds for Starkville and Oktibbeha County. The only option that puts us out in the future is the [larger option.]"