John Deere's expansion was the news Columbia County leaders had been waiting on.
The tractor company's move last week meant the county's speculative building - a $1.8-million, 128,000-square-foot shell in Horizon South Industrial Park - went off the market and out of the county's budget.
"This is another blue ribbon day for Columbia County," said County Commission Chairman Jim Whitehead. "John Deere Commercial Products has been an outstanding corporate citizen. We look forward to their continued commitment to our community and their employees."
The company will reportedly use the spec building as warehouse space - after nearly $2.3 million in bond-financed work is completed. Site plans for the building call for additional parking, a "lay-down" area in back and a loading dock added to the building. County leaders said the company should be moved into the building by November.
Under the terms of the deal OK'd by Development Authority members last week, the county would turn over ownership of the building to a consortium of local banks. The consortium will then refinance the building - and the planned improvements - using $4.1 million in taxable industrial revenue bonds through the Development Authority and lease the building for 10 years to John Deere for warehousing space. At the end of the lease, John Deere will purchase the building.
The group of banks is a new approach for the authority - in the past, they've taken bids from various banks on bonds. The consortium concept eliminated the bidding war.
"At certain times, it is important to rally everyone for the good of the community," said Development Authority Chairman Ron Thigpen.
Columbia County Development Authority Executive Director Bryan Quinsey said the arrangement will cover the construction costs of the building, but other costs like land, marketing and bond interest will be absorbed by the county.
Quinsey said he didn't know how much that cost would be, but other officials estimate the cost to be about $800,000.
"That's the cost of doing business," Quinsey said. "We have to look at the marketing value we've had for the four years we've had the building."
Columbia County's spec building saga began in November 1997, when officials broke ground for the building in Horizon South Industrial Park near Grovetown. The ensuing five years have been a mishmash of cost overruns, failed sales and the use of marketing consultants.
County Commissioner Frank Spears - who has long called for the sale of the spec building - was thrilled with the announcement of the sale.
"I've been waiting for this day for a long time," he said. "Ever since I was first elected I felt like the spec building should have been sold."
Quinsey said he had mixed emotions about the sale. While he's glad to have the expanding industry, he said he's ready to move forward with industrial recruitment in the county.
Selling the building could make getting the attention of companies more difficult because the sale means county may be put on the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism's back burner.
"They have an A and a B list over there" he said. "Counties that have a spec building are on the A-list. Counties that do not have a spec building are not."
The future could mean another spec building in the county - one built without county dollars.
"I want to see us build another one," said Development Authority Member Mark Moseley - who was chairman of the group when construction of the spec building started in November 1997. "It's just part of the business."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.