The issue arose last month when the city discovered a portion of the property slated for use in expanding the apron at the Municipal Airport was actually deeded to the IDB in 1996. Agreements with the Federal Aviation Administration and Barge Waggoner consultants for the airport project were already approved.
When informed of the conflict in September, the IDB voted to keep the property, but Chairman Raymond Styres said he has since been presented with more details from Airport Board Chairman Tommy Dobson.
“Let me just start by saying I think everybody in this room wants what is best for the city of Sylacauga,” Styres said. “I certainly do.”
He said Dobson told him the FAA is willing to purchase the property, which is adjacent to the airport, to be used in future expansions and would tentatively buy it in three phases over the next three years, although the IDB has received no formal FAA proposal. Styres said he understood the FAA will keep trying to get the property or condemn it for its own use. The deal troubles Styres for two main reasons, he said.
“No. 1, and the most important, is I didn’t have a check in my hand, and I don’t trust the FAA or government in the next two or three years giving Sylacauga a bunch of money for the airport,” Styres said. “The second reason is we’ve got to make a decision in this city whether we want to have hangars for the airport or jobs for people to work. If you look back, I think our track record has been pretty good as a board in utilizing the property that’s been given to us out there.”
Businesses and industry have located on neighboring properties developed by the board including Fleetwood Metals, Harrell’s Fertilizer, Hocking International and a shopping center with Home Depot. Talladega County Economic Development Board Director Calvin Miller said the shopping center alone employs 150 people and generates $600,000 in sales tax annually.
In addition, Miller said several entities have already invested $1.2 million into a speculative building constructed on the property about two years ago. Two Japanese auto manufacturers have expressed interest in the building, and one would need an additional 10 acres from the start, he said. Styres said the industry that did locate there would essentially be landlocked if the FAA purchased parts or all of the surrounding property.
Furthermore, Miller said the remaining 67 acres is the only property in the city available for industrial expansion.
IDB member Gary Smith pointed out that the city loses money on the airport, but makes money on the businesses located in the area. Mayor Doug Murphree said the city always wants jobs; however, its purpose is more about providing a service than making money, he said.
“We’re not in business to make a profit,” Murphree said. “The Police Department or the library or anything doesn’t make money, but we provide a service. That airport is a service, and I want to continue to provide that. I think the rest of the (City Council) will agree with that.”
The City Council did approve filing a non-binding pre-application with the FAA for a land acquisition grant for the IDB’s property at its Nov. 7 meeting, but has several months to make a final decision, Murphree said.
IDB member Barry Vaughn said the decision boils down to priorities.
“I think you all have it nailed; it’s about what’s best for the city,” he said. “Not what’s best for this board, what’s best for the Airport Board, what’s best for anybody individually, and that’s all this board wants is what’s best for the city long-term.”
Also at the meeting, Miller gave the following industry updates:
• Heritage Plastics was granted tax abatements from the city and county for a $17 million expansion. This is its third expansion since locating here in 2006.
• A project that has been in development for nearly three years would start construction next year, if it comes through.
• A pellet manufacturer that would employ 88 people is potentially locating in Childersburg.
• Resolute Forest Products in Childersburg has received tax abatements on $12 million for new gas boilers.
• IKO shingle plant is still scheduled to be complete next year.
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