Anniston secures regional cooperation for McClellan infrastructure
by Paige Rentz
Local leaders plan to announce today a new regional partnership to help make $8 million in improvements at McClellan intended to lure industry and jobs, according to a release issued today.

The partners are focusing on an area of the former Fort McClellan where two industrial outposts sit amidst run-down buildings protected by rusty, overgrown fences and vacant lots empty dust and gravel onto an uneven roadway.

Anniston is teaming up with other local governments including Calhoun County, Jacksonville, Piedmont, Weaver, Ohatchee and Hobson City and institutions including the McClellan Development Authority, the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, the Calhoun County Economic Development Council, Jacksonville State University and Gadsden State Community College to complete an $8 million infrastructure and beautification project at the McClellan Industrial Park.

The partners plan a press conference Wednesday to announce the deal, according to today’s release, issued by Anniston city staff. The release describes the partners as the McClellan Area Regional Development Compact and says they “have and will dedicate their time, energy and vision to this grand effort.”

The list specifically notes that Oxford is not a member of the compact, and that the compact’s members will continue to work and communicate with that city’s government “to offer its citizens the opportunity for jobs, training and to enhance the region’s resources.”

Jenkins said that the fact that Oxford has not signed on the dotted line should not lead to the assumption that the city leaders are not “engaged in this process and that they do not see a value in developing McClellan. I believe they do.”

Mayor Leon Smith said he hasn’t been approached about Oxford signing onto the compact but added, “If they need some help, I wouldn’t mind helping them.”

Councilman Mike Henderson said he was aware of the effort but that the council has not discussed it.

“I have heard the basics of what they’re wanting to do,” he said, “but it’s not been brought to us for discussion.”

The project

The Anniston City Council adopted a resolution at its Tuesday meeting that directs city officials to develop a financial plan and implementation process for infrastructure improvements at McClellan, particularly Iron Mountain Road and Pappy Dunn Boulevard. In February, the council approved a resolution encouraging a regional approach to development at the former fort.

Anniston Finance Director Danny McCullars said that with two grants awarded for the project — an industrial access grant for Pappy Dunn Boulevard in October and Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program funds for the completion of Iron Mountain Road in February — the city faces a $1.76 million match for the project, which several of the partners will pitch in to help pay.

A major portion of the work includes finishing Iron Mountain Road from its current northern end to Alabama 21. Anniston City Councilman Jay Jenkins said the project also includes work on Pappy Dunn Boulevard, which runs through the center of the industrial park, to provide lighting, landscaping, gutters, sidewalks — “all the bells and whistles ... so it reaches to the quality of the industrial partner we’re seeking.”

Jenkins said that with work along Pappy Dunn Boulevard, including utilities, beautification and other improvements, the site will be much more ready for development. “The polishing up of this road offers up effectively 128 acres of industrial park that is plug-and-play ready,” he said. “It’s just build your building and plug in.”

Partners on benefits of development

“McClellan matters,” said Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart. “It matters not only to Calhoun County, but it matters to Northeast Alabama.”

Stewart said he hopes the broader effort is just the beginning, adding that regionalism is important for vibrant communities.

Jacksonville Mayor Johnny Smith said that although his City Council has not yet voted on contributing to the project, there is a consensus among the members to do so at an amount yet to be determined. Smith said Jacksonville officials hope that if development is successful at McClellan, their city might see spinoff development and new employees settling in town and spending money there. “I think it’s going to be a real positive for Jacksonville,” he said.

Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis said the city doesn’t have a whole lot of money to do work on its own roads, but he does plan to help in whatever amount the city can “to help get McClellan on its feet.” Willis said that as development occurs and jobs are created, Weaver will be a throughway to McClellan from the western side of the county and a potential spot for new employees to settle.

“Any money we could offer Anniston would be an investment into Weaver’s future,” he said.

Other partners, such as Jacksonville State University, will provide resources and support to the project. University President Bill Meehan said that JSU can’t fund highway projects, but would be happy to help with in-kind services such as publicity and marketing or impact studies.

“It’s a unified effort to support that,” he said, “because I firmly believe any type of economic growth, whether it be at McClellan or anywhere else in the county, raises the economic tide for everybody.”

The McClellan Development Authority and the Economic Development Council are currently working to prepare large parcels of land for potential tenants.

Executive Director Robin Scott said the MDA has spent about $500,000 on master planning and developing construction documents for 600 acres of property at McClellan, 300 acres in each of the industrial and research parks.

The MDA is clearing and preparing 60 acres of land to have it ready for development, and the Economic Development Council is doing the same for 58 acres of land.

Executive Director Don Hopper said the EDC has committed to building a speculative building on one of the lots there — something the council has had success with in other parts of the county. He said he expects to build a 40,000-60,000 square-foot building that is as generic as possible to accommodate the largest variety of potential buyers.

“Our job is to recruit companies within Calhoun County”’ he said. “One of the ways to do that is to have product on the shelf when companies come.”

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter contributed reporting.

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
© 2013