Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins talks about the industrial park under development in north Starkville during an update meeting on Wednesday. Higgins said progress is going well, but the LINK is still awaiting the resolution of a rezoning court case and for the Appalachian Regional Commission to release funds for a water tank grant. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
November 15, 2018 10:57:26 AM
Starkville's industrial park is coming along well, according to Golden Triangle LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins, but crucial issues to the site's future remain unresolved.
The LINK hosted an update meeting on Wednesday with members of its board, representatives from Oktibbeha County and the City of Starkville and the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority, as well as with companies prepping the site.
Higgins said the LINK is seeking to use the park for advanced manufacturing. That could include food companies or companies that make automotive or aerospace components.
One lingering issue is an ongoing lawsuit over the city's decision to rezone the land for the roughly-400 acre site northwest of the Highway 82-389 intersection. LINK attorney Chris Pace said that case, which the state Supreme Court remanded to the Court of Appeals earlier this year, is still awaiting a decision.
That decision could come by the end of the year, Pace said, or in early 2019.
Pace said the Court of Appeals has denied the landowners' request for oral arguments, which he took as a good sign for the LINK's side of the case.
Should the court rule in favor of the rezoning, Pace said, the landowners could apply for certiorari to take their case before the Supreme Court.
"Ideally, this could get decided in the next two or three months, if they lose and the appeals don't go forward," Pace said. "That would be ideal. If they do, we could end up still having a final decision on this by mid to early fall next year."
Should the rezoning fall in the courts, Pace said, there are still avenues to move the park forward.
One comes under the city's comprehensive plan, which identifies the land the park is on, as well as much of the surrounding land in north Starkville, as suitable for potential industrial development.
Another is through the work that's already in progress or will soon be completed in the industrial park, which will help create a change in the neighborhood, which is a prerequisite for rezoning. The LINK is also actively recruiting businesses to locate on 80 acres of land in the west portion of the park along Highway 389, which is already zoned for commercial development.
Higgins said the LINK is negotiating with a company for several months to locate there. Those talks will likely slow down for a while with the year-end closeout season approaching, he said, but he expects them to pick back up after the new year.
Still, Higgins said the LINK is hopeful about the prospects the entire site plan will come together.
"Ultimately, this is not a matter of whether this property is definitively rezoned for industrial," Pace said. "It's a matter of when we get that done."
Water tank grant
The second issue, Higgins said, is $1 million in grant funding that the Appalachian Regional Commission has not released to help pay for the site's water tank due to the ongoing litigation.
Higgins said he believes the issue will get resolved and is primarily a bureaucratic hiccup. However, the LINK has had some difficulty contacting people with ARC to clear the issue out.
"The quicker we can get Chris Pace talking to the inspector general of the ARC, the quicker this can get resolved," Higgins said.
Higgins also said there was an earlier proposal from ARC that it could grant the money for the tank but would seek for it to be repaid if the litigation efforts fail. Higgins said that was unacceptable.
"The city and county have issued $7 million apiece in bonds," he said. "They've incurred enough debt. They've got enough risk. They're out on the wire as far as we expect them to get. No way, no how will we agree to pay that money back. We'll send it back to your ass before we have to spend it and pay it back."
Pace said he contacted U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith's office late last week and hopes the issue will soon be resolved.
Park moving ahead
Higgins said the other work on the site is progressing smoothly. Infrastructure work is expected to be completed by May.
Walt Dinkelacker, vice president for Headwaters, which is overseeing environmental work, said only three potential cultural artifact sites remain to be analyzed there. Work is ongoing with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Native American tribes to handle the sites, he said, and it should be completed in six to eight months.
Overall, Higgins said he feels good about the park's progress.
"This was a fun meeting to show our partners what we're doing and answer their questions," Higgins said. "I hope they leave elated."
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