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Council approves land purchases, options


Four Atmore City Council members gave the green light during the panel’s final meeting of 2023 to the purchase of a small triangle of land and authorized options to purchase another 125 acres, contingent on obtaining grants from the Alabama Site Evaluation and Economic Development Strategy (SEEDS) Act.
The groundbreaking and highly competitive grant program’s goal is to expedite the development of economic and industrial sites throughout the state. It is a critical component of Gov. Kay Ivey’s Game Plan to boost economic development in Alabama and includes $40 million in its first phase.
The immediate land purchase and possible future purchases will give the city, which currently has only 19 acres of development property, more than twice the 75 acres required under SEEDS provisions.
The four council members (District 2’s Jerome Webster was unable to attend) heard some of the details of the real estate transactions from City Attorney Larry Wettermark. The attorney had discussed the issue during a December 8 workshop at which Mayor Jim Staff and council members Eunice Johnson and Webb Nall were the only elected officials in attendance.
“Of late, the state has realized that we don’t have enough shovel-ready industrial sites to market, which is a little shocking,” Wettermark said. “Alabama has really been one of the premiere states for aerospace and the other things (industries) we’ve gotten. Realizing this need, the Alabama Legislature passed the SEEDS Act last year to help local communities in buying property to help market industrial expansion.
“This year, they appropriated $40 million, available on a competitive, statewide basis. You have exacting criteria, including surveys, Phase 1 environmental studies, appraisals of the land to be purchased and a bunch of other stuff.”
Wettermark said he and Jess Nicholas of the Escambia County Industrial Development Authority have been working on the preliminaries “for some time” and would be able to meet the Friday, December 15, deadline to fulfill provisions of the grant application.
The city’s 19-acre parcel is just off Swift Mill Road. The city attorney said the proposed purchases — of a 21.78-acre tract and a 59.9-acre tract from Swift Brothers LLC, as well as tracts of 4.19 acres and 40.11 acres from Swift Land and Timber, would give the city ownership of potential development property that extends from “northward, up to Industrial Boulevard and eastward to Jack Springs Road,” creating a unified parcel of land that covers more than 160 acres.
The total cost of the parcels is $748,000, of which the state grant will pay one-third, he explained.
“We feel that puts us right at the top of the market in competing against other cities,” he continued. “What we do have that other communities don’t have, is an Economic Development Administration grant for a CSX rail spur off (U.S.) Highway 31, into this property we are proposing.”
Wettermark cautioned the council that there is no guarantee the city will be awarded any of the first-round grant funds.
“It’s not a done deal yet,” he said. “If we don’t get it, we’ve lost the earnest money (a total of $7,000) and we’ll try and get it next year.”
The land transactions represented five items on a 19-item council agenda that is one of the lengthiest in recent memory.
For the second successive meeting, and perhaps due to the multi-item agenda, the mayor had trouble keeping the various items in the correct sequence while moderating the meeting, having to backtrack several times when City Clerk Becca Smith would point out the momentary lapses.
In other action conducted Monday (several of which will be covered in more detail in later editions), the council:
*Authorized a letter of agreement with Direct Communications for communications and community engagement plan services.
*Heard the first reading of an ordinance to establish a downtown entertainment district.
*Reappointed Elliott Faircloth to another term on the Board of Zoning Adjustment.
*Authorized the transfer of The Publican’s Lounge Retail Liquor License to Atmore Publican LLC. (Mayor Pro Tem Shawn Lassiter, whose wife has reportedly taken ownership of the local tavern, abstained from voting.)
*Approved a request to conduct the community’s Martin Luther King Day Parade at 10 a.m. on Monday, January 15.
*Heard a proposal from Dani Dials, a media marketer with Fox10 News in Mobile, that would — for $25,000 — feature Atmore in a two-hour segment of its most popular local programming program.
*Heard from Codi Smith that Feather and Fangs, a non-profit exotic animal rescue, is now in operation within the city. The group’s current accent is on snakes and other reptiles.