Work to continue toward TIF district to help finance infrastructure
By Jeff Keeling
A local commercial real estate developer will no longer lead efforts to market the 100-acre Young Farm property in Boones Creek just off Interstate 26, Washington County Economic Development Council (EDC) members learned Wednesday.
Mountcastle Development had been the property’s developer on behalf of the EDC, which has an option on the property, since late 2012. The agreement was relatively informal, though, and with recent discussion about enhancing its marketability with a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district, Mountcastle’s principal, John Marshall, had sought a binding development agreement. Marshall had pushed for a TIF agreement to be finalized, at least in principle, by June. “Understanding where we are with the TIF and that it may take some time as the city and county come to terms on where to go with that, John would like to remove himself as the developer for the Council on this project,” EDC CEO Mitch Miller told the council’s executive committee.
Upon hearing the news, committee members recommended to the full EDC, which met Thursday after News & Neighbor went to press, that Miller solicit proposals from developers with the means to purchase the property themselves and lead its development.
“I’d like to see us give Mitch the authority to seek a developer that is extremely well-capitalized that can come in in a leadership role and even potentially purchase the property, and take this thing from beginning to end without us playing Monday morning quarterback,” EDC secretary-treasurer Ron Scott said.
While TIF could still be involved and help fund infrastructure at the site, such a scenario could reduce risk to taxpayers, lessen the politics involved and reduce the EDC’s involvement in the type of project that has historically been driven by the private sector. That was the case even with the Young Property seven years ago when Cousins, a major developer out of Atlanta, was closely vetting the property and discussing incentives with the city before the recession intervened.
“We need to continue to move forward with figuring out our relationship to the project,” vice chairman Joe Grandy said.
The EDC has taken a hands-on role in many aspects of the effort, which envisions a major (roughly $100 million) retail or mixed-use site to help Washington County maintain its retail competitive advantage as large projects come on line in Sullivan County. Miller told the group Wednesday the high degree of public sector and council involvement didn’t always make for the most efficient decision-making.
Council Chairwoman Lottie Ryans said Miller should be allowed to vet developers individually, rather than putting out a request for proposals and having the entire EDC vote on one from among the finalists.
Johnson City City Manager Pete Peterson suggested giving Miller the latitude to talk informally with developers, bringing them up to speed on the current and near-future scenario at Boones Creek, and then let the private sector folks help lead things forward using their expertise and investment.
“He can tell them, ‘Here’s what we’ve got in place today, we’re trying to work to get the rest of the package complete,’” Peterson said. “’We’d like to invite you to come up and look at it and talk to us, and give us some general direction if you were offered the opportunity to become a business partner with the council. What would you be looking for from the council and the local governments in terms of forging a partnership to move a development forward.’”
In the end, the motion was to give Miller the authority to approach well-capitalized developers to begin a dialogue in regard to the Young Property. The EDC’s option runs to spring 2016.
In other business, Miller said environmental assessments were being completed on the newest section of the Washington County Industrial Park in Telford following an inquiry last week by an international company that is looking for a roughly 30-acre site for a new facility. The company is on a short timeline, so the EDC could know within several weeks whether Washington County has been selected.