A large commercial development could be close to arriving in Covington.
Bids for the purchase of approximately 99 acres of land along Alcovy and City Pond roads owned by the City of Covington must be submitted by 1 p.m. on Nov. 9, according to the Invitation for Proposals Sale of Real Property from the City of Covington.
After the bidding process is closed, the Covington City Council could hold an executive session to discuss any bids received, and would have to open the meeting for a vote on the winning bid.
“I’m anticipating a meeting based on the bids returning Nov. 9,” City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said.
The property is currently zoned M-2 — meaning for development of industrial, office and/or commercial use – and is being sought by The Foxfield Company of Blufton, South Carolina.
The bid, announced Oct. 25, comes after the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce’s Office of Economic Development brought Foxfield’s interest in a commercial development to the city.
According to city attorney Frank Turner, Jr., due to the developer trying to purchase adjoining property, negotiations needed to begin quickly, or the project most likely couldn’t happen. Turner said that there was nothing illegal about negotiating before bids were accepted.
While the city was working on putting together a proposed sale and purchase agreement for the property desired by Foxfield a back-and-forth discussion has played out in public by local officials concerning the potential commercial development.
A letter by Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston, published in The News on Oct. 3, made public the fact that a developer hopes to bring Class A office space, hotels, retail shops and a movie theater to one mixed-use development in a centralized area of Covington.
Councilman Chris Smith followed the mayor’s letter with a statement saying he was “disappointed,” in the plan, that the developer wanted millions from the city and it wasn’t a good deal. Johnston issued another letter showing his support.
Now, after two joint work sessions between the Covington City Council and Newton County Board of Commissioners concerning the development, Councilman Keith Dalton has stepped forward to criticize the project, stating the property needed for the development cost the city $3.1 million to buy, and the developer wants to purchase it for $1.5 million and have the city and county put another $2.9 million each into infrastructure improvements around the area.
According to the proposed sale and purchase agreement issued by the City of Covington, it is attempting to sell 98 gross acres of land for $1.2 million. The proposed contract, which is not signed by either party, also states that Foxfield will use the property as a mixed-use development and requires road improvements to be made by the City of Covington and Georgia Department of Transportation to “Alcovy Road and certain side streets adjacent to the property.” Foxfield still has to submit their official bid and has yet to counter or agree on the proposed sale and purchase agreement.
Work on those roads, public utilities and public improvements will cost the city and county, based on an intergovernmental agreement, $2.9 million each.
Whether the $2.9 million in city investment, along with the loss of $1.6 from the purchase price of the property, is worth it has been one part of the controversy surrounding the development. Another is the change in zoning.
“If you look at the city’s master plan, this is an industrial property,” Dalton said. “That’s what we bought it for; it backs up to the airport. When we bought this it was with hopes that it would be some aviation commercial development, like somebody who builds planes, helicopters or something along those lines.”
In October, Smith stated that the Alcovy Road property was the last industrial property in the city, but after the purchase, if it’s completed, there will be 52 M1/M2 zoned properties with the largest at 334.65 acres. However, Dalton said that the piece of property being considered for this sale is the last with utilities set up.
Another piece of controversy with this sale is the potential revenue.
Dalton said when SKC came to Covington it brought almost a $700 million investment. For the Foxfield development, which will have no tax abatements attached to it, the revenue will all be in sales and property taxes.
“There will be some retail spending – you benefit some because you get sales tax,” Newton County Chair Keith Ellis said. “But retail doesn’t always pay to have good paying jobs like industrial and commercial.”
Dalton supported Ellis’s claim.
“It might, would bring in more sales tax, but as far as income, retail jobs are not going to pay anywhere near what manufacturing jobs are going to pay,” Dalton said.
In response to Dalton’s comments, the Board of Directors of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce issued a letter, found on CovNews.com, stating the “developer is proposing an investment of more than $200 million.
“The proposed project is considered to be a mixed use development which includes Class-A Office Space, Hotels, Movie Theatre, Big Box Retail, and Restaurants. It has the potential to create over 1,500 jobs.
“Under the proposed investment numbers, local governments would receive $1,316,545 per year, and the Newton County School System would receive $1,856,875 per year. These estimated impacts include both property tax and sales taxes collected by City of Covington, Newton County, and the Newton County School System.”
In his own letter to The News, found here, Johnston said the total investment from the developer will be, there will be 1,500-2,000 jobs, property tax revenue of $1,956,514 per year, sales tax revenue of $825,000 per year, school tax revenue of $2,600,000 per year and utility income of $1,125,000 per year.
All those numbers come from the entire development.
According to the proposed contract, Foxfield has to provide the city with “evidence, reasonably satisfactory” to construct two 50,000-square-foot office buildings and one 150-room hotel on the property and building commitments from occupants of the office building to lease or purchase a minimum of 50 percent of those buildings.
“The idea that two Class A office buildings and a 100 room hotel is not going to help develop the rest of the retail space is simply not true,” Johnston said in his letter. “These type developments are more valuable to retail when you have a density of people. If 1,000 people worked in these offices and 100 people stayed in the hotel, they need shopping and dining options close by. The fact the developer is making this part of the developments performance criteria, is a clear signal we are on strong footing to fast track the rest of the development.”
The chamber’s economic development department has been working for more than a year on the proposed project, which the chamber’s board of directors said will take 10 years to build out.
“Ultimately, it is up to the City and County to decide if they want to incentivize the creation of 1,500 jobs and $200,000,000 worth of investment,” the chamber’s letter said. “The Chamber Board encourages the elected officials to continue the positive momentum on this project. “