'An exciting step'
by Will Heath
Sep 17, 2009 | 1459 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Grand River Project in the Leeds-Moody Cooperative District appears to be on yet again.

The project passed a marathon Wednesday, Sept. 9, that included six separate “emergency” meetings and seven different governing bodies ended with all parties agreeing unanimously to support the Fifth Amended and Restated Development and Cooperative Agreement between Leeds, Moody and St. Clair County. Voting in favor were Leeds-Moody and Leeds-General Cooperative Districts, Leeds Water Works, St. Clair County Commission, Leeds Commercial Development Authority, Leeds city council and Moody city council.

On Thursday, Sept. 10, Jefferson County judge J. Scott Vowell of the 10th Judicial Circuit gave his approval to the project, as well, with a written order to validate the bond issue.

That support means the Birmingham-based Daniel Corporation finally now has the go-ahead to proceed with Grand River, a $120 million retail development across U.S. 78 from Bass Pro Shop off Exit 140 along Interstate 20 (just beyond I-459).

All parties are hopeful that the agreement will bring an end to negotiations, which have stretched on for nearly three years.

“It’s a relief because there are so many moving parts to this,” Leeds mayor Eric Patterson said. “You had three corporations involved, two cities, a county, different agreements. There’s so many moving parts that had to be put into place – hopefully this will settle it out.

“We’re real excited about it, because we think Grand River will drive the 140 exit; we think Grand River will help Bass Pro and Bass Pro will help it; and we also think that it will help fund our school bonds. So I’m excited; it’s a relief.”

The specifics of the re-negotiated agreement include the following:

• All parties affirm their commitment to the bond debt for Bass Pro Shop.

• Leeds assumes responsibility for all matters regarding Rex Lake Road (the road that runs beside Bass Pro Shop and in front of Barber Motorsports Park).

• Alabama Auto Auction, located in the Leeds-Moody Cooperative District, will de-annex from Leeds, and be annexed into Moody. Moody will also receive all sales tax revenues from AAA for 2009.

• The parties will continue to share sales tax revenue in Leeds-General Cooperative District, which includes Bass Pro, Grand River, the ancillary district and initial retail sites. The revenue sharing will continue until all the debt from the bonds for Bass Pro and Grand River are paid, at which point the cooperative district will cease.

It’s that separation that Moody mayor Joe Lee said he and the rest of his council welcomed.

“It is a relief for all the council members,” Lee said. “Everybody worked hard to do this. The city of Moody honored every agreement we had, and planned to do that.

“We’re just glad to be on our own again, and to be able to concentrate our efforts in St. Clair County. That’s about all I have to say about it.”

Patterson — elected as Leeds mayor in 2008 — says he actually began the process of re-negotiating the deal before he even took office. The parties passed a Fourth Amended Agreement in July, only to come back to the table in late August because, according to Patterson, the legality of the agreement was questionable.

“Is it legal in itself for us to share with Moody and St. Clair, or any city or county?” he said. “Because it’s not our money we’re giving away – it’s the taxpayers of the city of Leeds’ money.

“The judge (Vowell) gave us so many days to file briefs to argue these points, to where he could decide, is this a debt on the city of Leeds taxpayers, and is it legal to share this money.

“In between, we tried to come up with another agreement before we had to litigate it – we felt like it would damage Grand River, or shut it down. We tried to come up with an agreement that would put a definitive amount on how much the debt really was, what their consideration was worth to put a definitive amount on it. We used the amount we had under our debt cap – that’s all we had to give. We used a definitive amount, and then we tried to give an amount that would equal what they put into Bass Pro, which would be something for the consideration they had put up. That’s how we came to this one.”

However, as Patterson noted, all the parties were working against the element of time — Daniel and its partners had given them a finite amount of time before pulling the plug on the entire project.

“Basically, Daniel is out there operating and paying subs and doing all these things, off their money, which is getting to be very expensive, without any funding source,” he said. “So they’re saying, if we don’t get this thing closed out, we can’t afford to keep going without our funding source paying us. We think the funding source has put a limit of this week on it.”

Doug Neil, who served as a consultant for the Bass Pro deal and is now Vice President of Development and Marketing for Daniel, attended every one of the meetings and was satisfied with the conclusion.

“I think it’s an exciting step for the communities, and it’s certainly an important step in moving this project and bringing it to reality,” he said. “Projects of this scope and magnitude carry a level of complexity. I think the important factor is the project is poised to move forward and all the parties are on board.

“I think we’ll continue moving forward aggressively with progress, with hopefully a scheduled opening next fall.”

As for Moody, with its neighbors’ project settled, it can now move forward with its own project: the Gateway Towne Center off Exit 144.

“We have 100 acres under contract down at the Interstate, and we’ll be able to put our efforts into developing that into our shopping center,” Lee said. “And to have Alabama Auto Auction — which was our business to start with — back is a big deal for us, plus the 54 acres they sit on, annexed into the city.

“That’s big for us. That’s money that goes into our budget, and we need it right now.”

Not everything on the project is completely settled — any taxpayer in Leeds may challenge the agreement until Sept. 24, or 14 days from the date the order was signed.

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