The Liberty County Development Authority agreed Monday morning to use money from its revolving loan fund to help meet a Georgia Department of Transportation requirement that otherwise might inhibit development at I-95 exit 76 in Midway.
LCDA CEO Ron Tolley recommended using up to $50,000 from the fund to assist with site development that includes changing about 800 feet of Highway 84 roadway from four lanes to two in order to allow for turning lanes for current and future businesses at that interchange. One such business might be McDonald’s.
According to Kevin Price, a developer for McDonald’s, the estimated total cost for the roadwork is $150,000. The city of Midway and the Liberty County Board of Commissioners each have agreed to contribute one-third of that cost.
“The site was attractive to McDonald’s,” Price said. “When they bring a site to our company, they’ve already checked it out. If we like it and they already like it, then we go and hire an engineer.”
Price noted they found some wetland issues that would have to be addressed by doubling the thickness of the restaurant’s concrete slab from 4 inches to 8. He also said the tap fees with the city of Midway were $40,000 — more than twice what they’d normally pay for a project. He said they worked with local engineering firm P.C. Simonton and Associates, whose engineer, Marcus Sack, contacted him last year, saying the DOT had come back with significant site requirements that involved the entire corridor, not just the proposed McDonald’s site.
“If it was about our property, we’d take care of it or abandon the project,” he said. “If you go out there right now, and you want to make a left turn, you’re sitting in a traffic lane. In my mind, this is an economic issue for the community. It’s going to have to be done.”
He said having the McDonald’s at that site would provide about 60 jobs and about $5 million in taxable annual revenue. That was an immediate benefit, he said, noting his company could begin the project by the end of the month and complete it by the end of the summer. However, having the entire corridor prepped for more development would provide Midway and Liberty County with even more jobs and taxable revenues.
LCDA member Robert Stokes and Chairman Allen Brown posed questions, then LCDA member and Liberty County Board of Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette told the group that area residents want the project to happen, but they also want to see some level of participation by the developer.
Price said that was not possible because of the cost already incurred for the tap fees. Brown then asked about Midway’s tap fees, suggesting they might discourage investment. LCDA member State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said they all need to think in terms of long-term investment, reminding everyone that Liberty County is growing.
“Those tap fees were calculated by the Georgia Rural Water Association,” Midway Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington told the authority. “We didn’t just pull the figure out of the air.”
Williams wanted to know whether that figure could be adjusted down the road, saying that as the density of development increases, costs should come down. Hinesville Mayor and LCDA member Jim Thomas then reminded the group there are two undeveloped exits on I-95 in Liberty County. He said if they don’t develop “this thing” now, they’ll regret it.
Tolley asked Price whether his company could handle a $10,000-per-year loan over a five-year period. The developer replied with an emphatic “no sir.” His company would be unwilling to incur any cost for development of the corridor. Tolley then recommended using the revolving loan fund to support the project. A motion was made and the vote was unanimous to approve the action. Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown said they would bring up the action for approval at Tuesday night’s commission meeting. Lovette and Commissioner Marion Stevens, who also attended the meeting, expected the action would pass.
Price asked whether it was possible for his company to get a letter of intent from the authority and the county that the project would move forward with money from the county, Midway and the LCDA. Tolley and Brown said it would be done.
In other business, the LCDA approved a request by the commission for an easement of some LCDA-owned property in Midway that would be used for a Liberty County Sheriff’s Office substation. They also approved a request by Georgia Power for an easement on Highway 119.
LCDA Director of Administration and Finance Carmen Cole presented a monthly financial report, and Danielle Besser, director of marketing and communications, presented a report on a paid apprenticeship program sponsored through a partnership with the Liberty County Manufacturing Collaboration, the Liberty College and Career Academy and Savannah Technical College.
The next scheduled LCDA meeting is 8:30 a.m. May 27.