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JDCC could move to town, city could buy current property at interstate

By By Lori Dann
Advance Managing Editor
Rumor could soon become reality if the city elects to purchase the old Kmart building.
Bob Jones, chairman of the Atmore Industrial Development Board, told the city council at a workshop Wednesday that preliminary talks with Jefferson Davis Community College about moving its Atmore campus into the former Kmart location have received favorable response. The move has been rumored for months but will be brought to the council table for the first time Monday night.
If JDCC moves into town, it would free up 100 acres of prime property adjacent to the interstate for the city to purchase. Jones said it would be an ideal location for a business incubator.
Jones compared the possibilities of a new business incubator at the interstate to the new distribution center in Loxley, which created approximately 350 jobs.
It could be the start of a retail boom at the Atmore exit, which currently has just one motel, one restaurant and three gas stations.
Jones pointed out that the scenario would not just benefit the city. JDCC would benefit from an increased visibility and would also receive a financial boost from the sale of the property. If a business incubator is developed, the community college could also participate in that venture by training workers.
The proximity of the proposed new campus to Escambia County High School would facilitate dual enrollment, and the city's K-12 schools would also benefit from the increased sales tax.
Councilman David McKinley pointed out that having the campus in town could also attract some students in the Walnut Hill and Molino areas who currently go to Pensacola colleges. By attracting more students, Councilman John Watkins said, the city could also reap more sales tax dollars from commuters at its restaurants and gas stations.
Jones said he and Mayor Rodney Owens have spoken with the local Realtor handling the Kmart property, and they have also met with JDCC President Dr. Susan McBride and State School Board Member Bradley Byrne.
Jones said there are still many issues which need to be worked out, including annexation issues, but the proposal seems to be beneficial to everyone involved. He said the agreement would allow JDCC to move into a "first-rate facility."
The next step is for the city to make an offer on the Kmart property, which is something Owens is interested in doing even if the JDCC move doesn't happen because of the appearance of the building. Council member Curtis Harris agreed that the building could not continue to remain unused and the target of vandals.
Jones said the city needs to move within the next six months on working out a deal with JDCC. He said the industrial development board has some funds available to contribute to the project.