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With OmniTRAX in the fold, IDA to re-look at its plans
Research-Forest Brochure-3

The Effingham Industrial Development Authority’s deal with a company to market and develop its Research Forest Tract could have a ripple effect on its other plans.

“Everything is full speed ahead with that,” said IDA CEO John Henry of the agreement with OmniTRAX.

An OmniTRAX senior official visited Effingham recently, and Henry said there is no start date for work on infrastructure on the property. He’s optimistic the company will be getting work going soon.

“I’m sure they will be formulating a plan. I’m sure something will take place in 2016,” he said. “A lot of planning has to take plan. The ink isn’t dry yet.”

IDA member Dick Knowlton, former head of the Savannah Economic Development Authority, said the successful Crossroads Business Park took longer to plan than it took to implement.

OmniTRAX is going through due diligence on the Research Forest Tract, and Henry noted the IDA had done “significant” due diligence on the land.

IDA members discussed reviewing their spending priorities, now that OmniTRAX is developing a tentative master plan, including a single-user mega site, for the Research Forest Tract. OmniTRAX will be responsible for developing all the infrastructure needed for the property.

“Our flow chart now has a lot of questions answered,” Henry said of the IDA’s strategic plan.

IDA Chairman Chap Bennett had pushed for the IDA finding a private partner to help with Research Forest during discussions last year about the IDA’s goals.

“Most of those were about getting an OmniTRAX,” he said, “and it occurred quicker than we thought it could. We have accomplished quite a few of the things in the strategic plan. We got a partner, and we have solidified Moon River. The big goals don’t change but the items we spend money on do change.”

IDA member David Harris added Savannah Cold Storage’s plans for the I-16 south property will bring power to the IDA’s well on the north side of the tract. The IDA also expects to have a revised lease and bond with Moon River Studios finished soon, with the project taking just 51 acres of the more than 1,500 acres.

“We’re going to get a lot of attention, not just because of OmniTRAX,” he said, “but because we have two sites that can handle a large capacity user.”

Despite being a member short of a quorum for their meeting Thursday, the IDA members delved into what’s next in the wake of the OmniTRAX agreement. Knowlton said the IDA should consider reserving smaller tracts, from 100 to 150 acres, for potential users, along with the big sites for big users.

“We’ve hit a home run on the big deals,” he said. “We’ve accomplished four-fifths of what we need to do.”

Of the Research Forest Tract’s more than 2,500 acres, about 1,600 are buildable. Currently, the price per acre for property such as the Research Forest Tract is about $15,000.

But the OmniTRAX deal — and the two rail lines that traverse the Research Forest Tract — could elevate significantly the price for land in the parcel.