Morgan Co. ‘hits lottery’ says official

Tia Lynn Ivey News

Facebook Inc., the largest social media site in the world that boasts of more than 1.3 billion users, is rumored to be developing a data center in Stanton Springs with a price tag of more than $40 billion over the next 20 years. The Atlanta Business Chronicle noted that the project could possibly be the “biggest economic development project in Georgia’s history.”

However, local officials have declined to confirm the widely reported deal with Facebook.

“I can neither confirm nor deny that it is Facebook,” said Shane Short, the executive director of the Development Authority of Walton County. “But I can tell you it’s a significant deal, and as far as Jasper and Morgan counties are concerned, they just hit the lottery.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 23, The Joint Development Authority (JDA), the four-county board tasked with overseeing the development of Stanton Springs, unanimously approved the sale of 416 acres in Stanton Springs, near the new $1 billion Shire plant and $14 million Georgia BioScience Training Center. The JDA also approved a $750 million bond issuance, along with the land sale, for a company called Morning Hornet LLC , which is believed to be a “code name” for Facebook. The initial $750 million bond issuance would be the first phase in a five-phase development plan that could call for up to $42 billion in bonds and create 500 jobs over the course of two decades. The deal will hinge on a Morgan County Superior Court approving a bond validation. The JDA is comprised of representatives from Morgan, Walton, Newton and Jasper counties.

However, any bond deal that goes through will not place any of the four counties on the hook, should the deal fall through or fail, according to the JDA.

The JDA board is composed of members representing each county. There are two members from Morgan County serving on the JDA: Alan Verner serves as JDA Chairman and Andy Ainslie serves on the JDA board.

“Any bond deal that we would do through the JDA, there is absolutely zero obligation on behalf of JDA or any of the four counties,” said Short. “The company is responsible for every dollar should anything happen. Although we back the bonds, we are not responsible for those bonds…We will be the title-holder, but in name only.”

The JDA will essentially procure the bonds and lease them to Morning Hornet until the bonds are paid off in 2043.

Short confirmed that while the deal includes a tax abatement period of 20 years, the company will make annual PILOT payments, which are payments in lieu of taxes, to the JDA.

“They won’t pay property taxes for 20 years and that is not unusual for a large project like this one to do PILOT payments instead. The payments have already been negotiated and it’s extremely significant. I can assure you it’s a very good deal for all of the communities involved.”

Short would not disclose the dollar amount of the PILOT payments, but noted all financial figures would be released after the bond validation process. Whatever the annual PILOT payment amounts to, Morgan County is entitled to 15 percent of it.

Short believes this deal will reap multiple benefits for the four counties who have invested in the development of Stanton Springs over the last two decades.

“There are two portions of this that are very important and immediately beneficial,” said Short. “The PILOT payments are one, but the second is the land sale price for about $15 million. According to Short, $7.5 million of that money will pay off the debt of the four counties for Stanton Springs that they have been carrying for 20 years. “No more debt payments,” said Short. Short noted that the rest of the money will be used to extend Shire Parkway all the way into Morgan County, which will open up another 500 acres ready for development and ready to sell.

“We already have a major company interested in that land,” teased Short, who declined to identify which company is considering the property.

“I can’t say who it is, but Stanton Springs was designed to be a bio-pharma-technology park, so the company is in that vein.”

The land sale was a long-time coming, according to JDA officials.

According to Shane Short, The JDA, along with state and local leaders, has been working with “Morning Hornet, LLC,” which JDA official describe as a large-scale project of a “major Fortune 250 technology company.”

“The JDA has been working extensively with the company,” said Short. “Lengthy due diligence has been conducted, and we have determined that the company is an excellent fir for Stanton Springs and the community.”

According to Short, “the bond issuance for this project allows for the completion of a multi-phase development of which the first phase is expected to represent a total of $750 million in capital investment.”

The Morgan County Superior Court will preside over the bond validation process on Wednesday, February 14.

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