Spec building in limbo as LINK eyes research park development

May 14, 2014 10:14:36 AM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


Plans to construct a speculative building to lure potential industrial developments to Oktibbeha County are on hold as Golden Triangle Development LINK officials research the feasibility and costs associated with developing a new research and development park near Mississippi State University, LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins confirmed Monday. 


The LINK began developing plans for a speculative or "spec" facility last year since Oktibbeha County lacks existing structures to serve as bait for prospective large-scale industries. 


The designs were based upon 2013's market conditions -- in September, those favored buildings with more than 50,000 square feet of space and 30-foot-eaves to handle significant in-house construction efforts -- and officials said the LINK narrowed the facility's eventual placement to the Starkville Industrial Park near George M. Bryan Airport. 


Those plans shifted, Higgins said, after the LINK, based upon a report developed by Florida-based independent economic research firm POLICOM Corp., began internal dialogue about developing a large research and development park independent of MSU. 


The Fruth Report, named after its author and POLICOM President William Fruth, was presented to elected city and county officials Monday and the general public Tuesday. 


The Golden Triangle could become one of the most dynamic, small-market economies if it tends to workforce development needs, expands MSU-partnered research and development capacity and continues to develop Clay County's Yokohama Tire Corporation site and the Lowndes County Industrial Park, located adjacent to the region's airport. 


Specifically, Fruth's report called upon the LINK to plan and develop at least 500 acres for the new research park, while identifying 500 additional acres for future use. 


Higgins Monday estimated the project would cost at least $10 million even if the LINK acquired land and tended to infrastructure needs in phases. In this scenario, the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority would own the land, he said, negating the need for State College Board approval for development deals. 


OCEDA owned property in the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park until it transferred control of its last parcel to C Spire last year. 


Higgins said the LINK might have a private partner willing to foot the bill for spec building construction. Those plans have slowed as the organization would like to place it in a new research and development park but cannot commit until overall park plans are developed. 


He also said the spec building's design could be smaller than previously anticipated. 




Report: Deal with Cornerstone Park shortcomings 


Fruth's report also critically highlighted infrastructure shortcomings at Cornerstone Park, an industrial site located south of the Miss. Highway 12 and Miss. Highway 25 bypass. 


OCEDA President Jack Wallace said his organization will discuss Cornerstone Park's future and shortcomings 5:30 p.m. Monday at its regular monthly meeting. 


"We simply want to talk about changing the flavor out there," he said. "No decisions have been made, and no plans are in the works." 


Previously, economic development officials assumed the almost-225 acre park could only support a residential load, but Joey Deason, Oktibbeha County's LINK representative, told The Dispatch in September that 4-County Electric Power Association committed to a 2-megawatt load for the OCEDA-owned property. 


The commitment, in tandem with the site's water and sewer capacity, will allow the LINK to market Cornerstone to potential suitors. Still, the site's electrical capacity pales in comparison to that offered at sites in Clay and Lowndes counties, which in turn restrict how the park competes for large-scale industrial developments, Fruth said. 


4-County's commitment is dependent upon area demand, a company spokesperson said last year. The site is located about five miles from two different substations that supply power to residents in the Bluefield Road area. As load growth increases, overall supply would likely decrease unless a new substation and transmission lines are constructed. 


Lynn Timbrook, 4-County's manager of engineering, told The Dispatch last year that engineers are working on a plan to improve capacity, but the project is years and significant economic commitments away from becoming a reality. 


Wallace again confirmed the 4-County commitment Tuesday but said large developments usually do not locate in industrial parks that can only promise increased infrastructure access in the future. 


"If you're trying to entice someone in, you have to have it; you can't promise it," he said. "We are sort of in a predicament at Cornerstone. We don't really have any new news for it, but we're definitely looking at what we need to do there to make it viable." 


Fruth's report also said the county should conduct a cost analysis and identify the feasibility of providing rail access within Cornerstone Park. Rail infrastructure is located near the site, but it is presently unavailable. 


Providing a rail spur within Cornerstone is expected to be too cost prohibitive to fund without a significant economic development package dictating need.

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch