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Enterprise FL & the NFEDP: Helping Columbia County Lasso $60-70 mil Project At the 12th Hour

Posted March 26, 2015  08:55 am

"Tremendous Opportunity, but we don't have a rail; we don't have roads; we don't have utilities."

The Inland Port – Catalyst Site became the Intermodal Park on U.S. 90. It is miles from both I-75 and I-10. (Photo 2011)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The second half of Monday's special meeting of the County's Economic Development Advisory Board may be turning into a clash of the rails – incentives – heavy weights: CSX vs. Norfolk Southern; Columbia County vs. really poor North Florida rural counties; and Plum Creek, the largest private owner of land in Florida. Columbia County's Economic Development Director, Glenn Hunter, kicked off the discussion of code name Project Crystal Clear. "This project is brought to us through EFI (Enterprise FL), in conjunction with the NFEDP (North FL Economic Development Partnership)," he said. (The NFEDP represents all of N. Central FL's rural counties – Ed.)

Mr. Hunter continued, "It's a renewable industry; a capital investment of between 60 and $70 million; 70-80 jobs of around $36,000; indirect jobs – 30. This company needs to be ready in about 12 months. It's estimated that it could be between 12 and 15 months to get the site ready. The site is the catalyst site – The North Florida Intermodal Park."

"Tremendous Opportunity"

The tale of the rail:

Hamilton County has been working on this project for a long time. Their site is serviced by Norfolk Southern, which some say, because of the route, was more expensive. A confidential source told the Observer that has been worked out and shouldn't be a problem. There is no rail in Jaxport. Columbia County's site will use CSX.

Mr. Hunter said, "One of the tremendous opportunities for us is EFI, along with the state, is looking at our catalyst site and the Intermodal Park recognizing that we have things there that need to be built out so that more projects can be put in place. We're sitting here pretty much now stalled. We have the McCallum Sweeney certification; we have the acquisition of the rail property; but we don't have a rail; we don't have roads; we don't have utilities."

Mr. Hunter explained that Columbia County couldn't afford to "build out the infrastructure" and that the incentives that could come from the state were "in the range of 6 or 7 million dollars."

County Manager Williams on the Incentives:

Plum Creek by law does not qualify for any of those incentives. They couldn't apply for an economic development transportation trust fund grant if they wanted to. That's the reason that all of that infrastructure is on public easements and is publicly owned. That's the reason in the MOU that was developed years ago, the county agreed to accept those, because they realized it would take grant funds in order to build them out.

The other thing that we did, if you will recall, we said to Plum Creek, look -- when all this infrastructure is in and all this permitting is done, that land value goes way up. And we don't want to be penalized for our own good efforts in working with you to make the land value go up. So the way the MOU reads is whatever the value of that land was -- before any improvement -- is the value to the County. What we would purchase it for... It doesn't really make a difference what we buy it for, today's value is whatever that per acre price is, is if somebody just had to purchase it off of the street. It is a pretty significant difference in what the County could purchase it for vs. what it retails for in the market.


Mr. Hunter said, "The company is requesting that we grant them 40 acres; a ten year tax abatement; waive permit fees; and cash incentives of around 1.1 million dollars."

EDAB member Glen Owens, asked, "What do you mean grant em' 40 acres?

EDAB member Marc Vann, followed up, "So we have to talk Plum Creek into giving em' 40 acres?"

Chairman DePratter said, "That, or the County would have to buy it. That's what you're here to discuss."

Mr. Hunter told the Board, "We have a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Plum Creek."

EDAB member Jeff Simmons said, "This would stimulate the $6-$8 million of state funding to get the infrastructure in there. That's what's going to get the infrastructure in that place."

Other counties – What about the land? The media

Mr. Owens asked, "Are there other counties looking at this project? What is the competition on this one?

Mr. Hunter answered, "This is very competitive. I met with the company in Tallahassee on Friday. We had a couple of hours going over all the particulars. They are going to make a decision. That's why I asked for this emergency meeting. They want a decision. They will make a decision by the end of the month. I've asked that the County commission have an emergency special meeting."

Mr. Owens wanted clarification, "About this giving away 40 acres. Can you elaborate on that?"

Mr. Hunter explained, "Let's say this. The land value right now is about $18,000 an acre. Because the County has worked in partnership with Plum Creek and because both sides have shared costs and assisted each other, we have a Memorandum of Understanding with them on this project that it will be agricultural rates for the land -- so that the land will not be cost prohibitive, but the value will be. So the value of what we were gonna offer project Crystal Clear will probably be $720,000."

Mr. Hunter continued, "The County has already worked with Plum Creek with incentives and with ways that each has benefited the other, so they agreed to allow the County special incentives on the property. So the real value is $18,000 an acre. We're not going to pay that, but that's the value of it. We have an agreement with them for a lesser amount."

"We will use that as one of our incentives to state clearly that the land value is this. However, because of the things we've worked out, we want to use that as an incentive, so it will be stronger for our positioning, if the media doesn't get the word out," he said.

The 10 year Tax Abatement

Chairman DePratter asked for comments on the 10 year tax abatement.

County Manager Dale Williams explained the property improvements would be on the County right-of-ways or County owned and maintained easements.

He said, "Does Plum Creek and their adjoining properties benefit – absolutely."

Mr. Owens said, "The 7 million is going to be spent to make the property saleable. Now we've got a joint venture. The way it's presented now it's pretty much all on us and I am not sure I love that."

After some conversation, Mr. Simmons said, "I think the bottom line is that if we don't do this project, we don't know when the next one's comin' that's gonna get the rail and the road in there."

Chairman DePratter reminded the Board, "This Board is sitting here to make your recommendation. Remember, you do have other people looking and offering."

Chairman DePratter reminded the Board that the incentives were going to cost the County "quite a bit of money."

Economic Development Director Hunter added, "I do believe that dollar amount, what the property's worth, will stand out as an incentive, especially because of the catalyst site. This will make us more competitive for the company."

Who else is in the running?

Your reporter asked, "Do you have any idea who else is in competition for this project and where they are?"

Mr. Hunter responded, "Stew, I don't even believe – I may have some rumors – but I don't think I want to discuss that."

A few moments later the EDAB unanimously approved a recommendation that the County negotiate an agreement with the Company.


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