Board seeks options for future of megasite

RACHEL KELLER COLLINS/The Tribune-Courier

Greg Pruitt, representing Hickman County on the Purchase Area Regional Industrial Authority Board of Directors, spoke passionately during a recent meeting in the Marshall County Courthouse. Pruitt said regionalism has been coming apart for at least 10 years and the board needs to choose a direction at the fork in the road but before taking any action, he wants legal advice from a qualified attorney to learn what the board "can and cannot do." Wendy Puckett, representing Fulton County (back left), and Chairman Mark Manning, representing Calloway County, listen intently.

The board that oversees the West Kentucky Megasite in northern Graves County recently voted to consult the state and legal counsel regarding its options for forward motion on an asset that has remained dormant for nearly 20 years and recently fared poorly in a site assessment and benchmark report.

"We are clearly at a watershed moment as we try to do what's best and what's right for the citizens of the Purchase region and we've received a lot of information, digested a lot of information and have a lot of agreement and some disagreement," Chairman Mark Manning said as he opened the discussion during last week's Purchase Area Regional Industrial Authority Board of Directors meeting.

"Unfortunately I've come to the conclusion this property is not serving its best use and the likelihood of it meeting the original intent is poor. From a personal standpoint and that's all it is, I think the assets could be better deployed into local industrial parks and local buildings and local economic development projects."

Josh Tubbs, representative of Marshall County, said while he appreciates the initial vision for the megasite, "this site doesn't make us stronger as a region." He said the idea of making the 2,110-acre site a smaller site for development wasn't something he could get behind either, explaining he would have difficulty convincing Marshall County to invest in such a project when it has its own small industrial park under construction.

Manning said it's "no secret" Graves County had a "different view" of the situation but its representative, Brent Shultz, said only that he expressed his opinion in an email to the board. Later in the meeting he added, "This park board's one ambition is to develop the park but it seems the interest has turned to what we can take back to our communities instead of what we can do to help the park."

Greg Pruitt, a former judge-executive representing Hickman County, spoke passionately about "regionalism" and the ongoing, 10-year disagreement about the future of the park and said success was reliant upon putting "the interest of the whole before ourselves."

Pruitt also noted there were federal and state funds involved in the project, grant agreements and contractual documents that made him leery of considering any action before consulting a "qualified" attorney with experience in dealing with a project of similar size and situation.

The motion that passed was made by Tubbs, to form a committee representing the board which would meet with members of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development and consult with an attorney to learn more about their options with the property.

"We obviously have a product here that's expensive to get infrastructure to, the site has challenges, it's a large chunk of property so we have to think about are there opportunities for us to better utilize that asset in a way that benefits us all as a region," he explained.

Manning said 40% of the 2,110-acre megasite is in a floodplain, it's composed of two tracts linked in the center and shaped like a figure-eight, and the estimated cost to extend infrastructure to the site is $20-30 million. He said the board, at the request of Graves County, hired consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), which is the group that located a Toyota plant in Huntsville, Alabama. But the results weren't favorable.

The JLL report states from the perspective of a large manufacturer, the West Kentucky Megasite has many challenges that would likely eliminate it from consideration, including lacking workforce density, direct Class-1 rail access, contiguous usable acreage and direct interstate access, which many large users require in the early stages of their site selection process.

The report reads in part: "The West Kentucky Megasite does have many favorable characteristics which could make it attractive to a small or mid-sized industrial use, such as competitive wages. However, it is our understanding that light manufacturing is currently prohibited on the site by the governing authorities. With these constraints in mind, it appears that the West Kentucky Megasite may face significant challenges in attracting a manufacturer to the site."

Following the meeting, Tubbs said of today's actions by the board, "For Marshall County what this means is that as we have made a commitment to proactively develop our first industrial park, to economic development, this means that we are looking at a potential resource that could help us develop the quality of Southwest One Industrial Park through infrastructure, through PADD ready sites through a number of ways to make this asset (SW1) something that's even more marketable than it is now."

The eight-county Purchase Area Regional Industrial Authority Board of Directors consists of a representative from each county in the Jackson Purchase.

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