Those were among the findings of a committee appointed by MDA chairman Phil Webb to find a strategy to develop and market the former Fort McClellan. The committee presented the findings Wednesday at the board’s quarterly meeting, including strategies to recruit independent living retirement communities and industrial tenants at the industrial and research park; to ready locations for commercial development; and to gauge interest in the sports complex and civic center.
While the board did not vote on the matter, discussion among members led to the consensus that the committee should move forward with the new priorities.
Committee member Tim Garner said that in his research, he found that the most successful retirement communities were built under a master plan and tend to focus on independent living developments that feature opportunities for community involvement and little to no maintenance.
“We’re talking about somebody that will come in here and spend tens of millions of dollars on a project,” committee chairman Mike James said of developers of such communities.
“To me, there’s a lot of synergy that a developer could angle,” committee member Jim McClellan said of the prospect, noting proximity of golf, shopping centers and other amenities for retirees.
James said the greater economic impact on a community comes from retirees, who tend to spend more and require less in return from local governments, such as public education for their children.
James said the board will need to decide how to move forward with its industrial and research park, which it has spent considerable money and time to improve. He mentioned possible partnerships with state and local agencies to handle development there or turning the marketing over to an international industrial recruiter, much as a homeowner would with a real estate agent.
McClellan said the authority should play up its strengths when recruiting new industrial tenants to its park. For instance, he said, Anniston’s abundance of water and relatively inexpensive rates could give the MDA an advantage in recruiting industries with high water usage. The authority has been working with partners such as the Calhoun County Economic Development Council to clear land in the industrial park and make it more attractive to developers, with plans for new utilities, lighting and landscaping.
James said there are also opportunities to lure commercial developers to the area, noting the future completion of Veterans Memorial Parkway and a dearth of national brands in Anniston, including major hotel and restaurant chains.
While there are some negatives — such as educational requirements for new businesses and per capita and household income — the MDA will have to overcome for commercial development, James said positives such as a daily traffic count of about 40,000 cars and an abundance of land will outweigh those when it comes to recruitment.
If the board sees fit, James said, the committee will also explore a joint venture with the city of Anniston and Jacksonville State University for a potential sports complex and civic center.
“This particular concept is nothing new,” he said. “It’s been a smashing success in other towns.”
He said city and university leaders have been receptive to such an idea in past years.
Robin Scott, executive director of the MDA, said these four approaches are short-term goals for marketing the approximately 1,400 acres already available for development. In addition, projects to clean up unexploded ordnance and contamination on other sites continue as part of a five-year plan. Scott said the MDA is awaiting clearance from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for 977 acres, the vast majority of which he expects will require no further action and will be open for development by the end of the year. Bullets are currently being removed from several other sections of property. Scott said work should be complete and approximately 800 acres open for development within a year to 18 months.
A lot of those areas, Scott added, are inaccessible, and the MDA will have to plan ways to take utilities and other infrastructure to the sites to prepare them for development.
James told the board members that they will look into a number of ideas, but it’s unlikely that all of them will be desired or feasible.
“Some of them will fly, and of course, some of them won’t fly,” he said, adding that the economy will dictate the feasibility of some of these ideas.
Pokey Brimer told the board that it needs to speak with one voice and in harmony with other entities such as local governments “so that when people with millions and millions of dollars want to come here, they feel that they’re welcome.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.