Ready for the Future NOW
THE CITIZEN EXPLORES THE PROGRESS OF THE JOINT DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY'S STANTON SPRINGS
by Tara Derock Mahoney
photos by Angelina Bellebuono
About 15 miles west of Madison, I-20 abuts a 1,600-acre parcel of undeveloped land called Stanton Springs. Travelers on the interstate might notice the large informational sign on the highway with a number to call for information. But what exactly is “Stanton Springs”?
If you exit the freeway at Hwy. 278 and head south, you won’t see much just yet. A monument tells you that you have reached “Stanton Springs;” a lighted, four-lane parkway leads into an area that will one day, developers hope, be lined with light industrial facilities. Just now, it’s still home to mostly deer.
But economic developers in four counties are on the case, and are actively marketing what will one day be the area’s first live-work-play community.
“This will be a mixed-use development,” said Rees Waite, a vice-president with TPA Realty Services, LLC, the Technology Park/Atlanta company that has partnered with four area counties to develop and market Stanton Springs. “It’ll have everything from office, retail, to light manufacturing and residential,” said Waite.
The “catch” with which local citizens are having trouble? Stanton Springs will likely take another 15 to 20 years to fully develop.
That’s not news. When the Joint Development Authority of Morgan, Newton, Walton, & Jasper Counties (JDA) issued $9 million in bonds in 1999 to buy the land, they were working on an original 30-year build-out timeline. Now, ten years into the project, that timeline has not changed. But in the current economic climate, economic officers in the four counties are re-doubling their efforts to bring prospective commercial tenants to the site, which now boasts a one-mile parkway, electricity, sewer, and gas services.
“We know that we can sell Stanton Springs on the strength of the community,” said Bob Hughes, Economic Development director for Morgan County. “We’re looking at new ways to do that.”
The state of Georgia is a big part of that. Currently, the state holds most of the cards when it comes to bringing prospective industry to any given area. Companies large and small typically contact state offices of economic development to get initial leads on areas that would make good homes to re-located or expansion offices for any given industry. But the JDA, Technology Park, and local economic development offices have built strong ties with state offices in a position to give Stanton Springs a boost.
“We’re continuing to get prospects,” said Waite. “The state Department of Economic Development is sure doing their fair share.”
In fact, although the JDA keeps details of prospective tenants very close to its vest, in recent months Stanton Springs did figure in the calculations and evaluations of as many as seven potential industrial clients. But most of those projects—consisting of relocations and expansions of mostly manufacturing companies—have been put on hold because of the difficult state of the national economy.
“Projects in that pipeline have slowed down tremendously,” said Hughes. But economic developers and local Chamber of Commerce officials, including Hughes, Shannon Davis of Newton, Nancy Kimsey of Walton, and Tracy Travello of Jasper continue to meet and plan and work to keep the name “Stanton Springs” in front of state development officials.
“They’re working pretty closely together to make sure our property is known,” said Waite.
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Stanton Springs as a live-work-play community was first conceived back in the late 1990s, when officials from four local counties came together with Technology Park/Atlanta (the developers of Johns Creek in Atlanta, another live-work-play community that began as a wide spot in the road 20 years ago, and is now a city in its own right) to talk about the viability of I-20 as an industrial corridor. A 1,500-acre parcel of land straddling three of the four interested counties—Morgan, Walton, and Newton—was identified, and ultimately the four counties came together to share costs and eventually profits in developing an entire new community. The debt service on $9 million in bonds is shared by the counties—75 percent is shared equally by Newton and Walton counties, Morgan County covers 15 percent, and Jasper County, the only county without any land in the actual development, covers 10 percent of the debt service.
Since 1999, the JDA has acquired some additional lands and received some cash, mostly from TP/A, which takes over the development rights of the land and organizes the infrastructure installments and liaises with the state. The four-county authority has also been the recipient of a $1-million grant from OneGeorgia, the pool of so-called “tobacco money” that has gone back into developing the state. The OneGeorgia grant was a significant source of income for the completion of the parkway leading into the Stanton Springs site.
Today, the eight-member JDA—made up of one elected official and one “at-large” official from each of the four counties—continues to meet monthly, usually in Morgan County, to monitor progress on the park and to brainstorm ways to promote the future development. (County commissioner Mack Bohlen and west Morgan farmer and agri-businessman Alan Verner represent Morgan County’s interests.)
But where do park developers go from here? Counties continue to service the debt on the initial set of bonds; they have acquired and installed gas and water and lights in the proposed park, and built a road. What next?
“We need to start showing [prospective tenants] what’s available within 10 miles, 20 miles of Stanton Springs,” said Hughes. “We need to sell our community.”
To that end, economic developers related to the project have developed a new, multi-pronged marketing plan to bring to the state as well as anyone else who inquires. Among other things, Hughes is also working on a compact disc for potential industries that is replete with local information, statistics and information on Stanton Springs.
“So many of these industry representatives, they come to a site for a visit and they’re handed a gigantic notebook about the site,” said Hughes. “Sometimes that notebook doesn’t even make it back onto the plane with the [representatives]—it’s just too big and bulky to carry around. We’re trying to develop something that they can take back in their pocket, that reminds them of everything they’ve seen here,” said Hughes.
The four counties are also developing a Web site, expected to be up and running later this spring, www.stantonsprings.com, which will give all and sundry up-to-date information about the development.
The group has also partnered with Georgia Power’s community services division to develop what is known as a “pop-ring” map, which illustrates, via concentric circles on a standard map, what workforce populations and community resources are located within a ten-mile radius of Stanton Springs, a twenty-mile radius of Stanton Springs, and so on.
Last, but not least, Stanton Springs supporters are developing a new video to show and send to prospective commercial residents of the industrial park.
“We’re working on a piece that will talk about the quality of life in this area,” said Hughes. “We want to show Stanton Springs as a community in and of itself.”
Stanton Springs is not yet a community. But there are a lot of people working to make it a thriving work-and-live center in the 21st century.
PRINTED IN THE MARCH 12 EDITION.