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County approves development agreement for Morning Hornet
Fees from business expected to retire debt on Stanton Springs investment
Stanton Springs
Stanton Springs' entrance is shown as it appeared in 2018. - photo by Jackie Gutknecht

COVINGTON, Ga. – The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the development agreement between the county and Morning Hornet LLC for construction of a proposed data center on 400 acres in Stanton Springs.

Stanton Springs is a 1,600-acre development off U.S. 278 near Interstate 20 owned and managed by a partnership between TPA Group and the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties. It is currently home to pharmaceutical manufacturer Shire and the Georgia Bioscience Training Center.

The JDA approved a $42 billion bond resolution along with tax incentives and a land purchase agreement for the project last month.

County attorney Megan Martin said the agreement gives Morning Hornet flexibility in developing the site.

“While several permits have already been issued for the project, Morning Hornet’s long-range plans for this site actually require flexibility,” she said, “Thus, in this agreement, the county will be authorizing Morning Hornet to develop the data center as it sees fit, within a certain footprint.”

In the agreement, the county agrees to waive fees for permitting and plan inspection. It also waives impact fees for the project.

Morning Hornet LLC also received the 20-year tax abatement as an incentive. The new agreement prohibits the county from levying any special taxes on the data center unless those taxes would apply to all uses in Stanton Springs.

The data center will be located entirely in Newton County. Morning Hornet will make PILOTs, or payments in lieu of taxes, starting when the first certificate of occupancy is issued.

 Shane Short, executive director of the Development Authority of Walton County, said the PILOT is due even if all five phases of the development are not built.

“In our negotiations with the company, the PILOT exists even if the company does not continue to build what they say they are going to build,” he said, “For example, there are five phases. In the first phase, there are approximately two buildings. If they do not build that third, fourth or fifth phase, the PILOT payment that is tied to those phases is still due.”

The Atlanta Business Chronicle has reported Facebook will be the ultimate owner of the data center. Local officials have refused to confirm or deny the report.

Short told commissioners the project will allow the JDA to pay off debt.

“This particular deal will allow us to pay off existing debt that’s been carried for almost 20 years,” he said, “That means that all four counties that have investment in the park will no longer carry debt service.”

Short said Newton County is currently responsible for 37.5 percent of the JDA’s $7.5 million debt.

District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards said he is excited about the project.

“We’re putting a data center there that hopefully will bring high-paying jobs to our community. That’s our hope,” he said,” But, I believe a larger reason for excitement is the fact that that will eventually be a tax base for our kids and our grandkids and some point provide relief for the taxpayers of this county.”

Commissioners also approved a resolution authorizing an agreement between the county’s water and sewer authority and Morning Hornet LLC.

The JDA is expected to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday.