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95-acre site added to interstate project for commercial development

By By Adam Prestridge
The Atmore City Council didn't think twice when mayor Howard Shell entertained a motion to add roughly 100 acres of property into the Rivercane project during Monday's council meeting.
Following a two-hour Atmore Industrial Development Board meeting and a 45-minute press conference, the council convened an hour later in the council chambers to approve the board's main topic of discussion.
"Today, Horne Properties indicated that they were in the process of purchasing 100 acres of property located adjoining our eastside property at the interstate for the purpose of development," Shell said. "They have asked to be admitted into the Rivercane guidelines."
The council unanimously approved the motion, making it official.
"Rivercane, with its exposure to I-65 and the Atmore trade area, presents a good opportunity for this type of 'regional' development," George Davidson, senior vice president of Horne Properties, Inc., said during the press conference. "Horne Properties is delighted to have the opportunity to work on this very aggressive project. We became involved several, several months ago when we were contacted by Jim Corman to see if we had any interest. We took a look at it and thought it was something that we would definitely have some interest in."
Davidson said the last several months have been very interesting for Horne properties.
"We visualize a mixed use, commercial, retail development with restaurants and maybe some other service providers on 94 acres that we have under option just south of the Rivercane project," Davidson said.
Once Horne has finalized its purchase of the property, they will enter into a mutually acceptable development agreement with the city following the council's OK.
Davidson said Horne has already begun marketing the property in search of a "big box" retailer to anchor the development. According to hpiknox.com, Horne Properties' Web site, the Knoxville, Tenn.-based full-service real estate development and management company has done business with big names such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Home Depot, Lowe's, Publix, Kroger, OfficeMax, Goody's, Kohl's, Regal Cinemas and much more.
"Once the commercial development is completed, this will result in a significant increase in the city's tax revenues," Shell said. "As well, we hope to be able to greatly improve the shopping and dining experiences for all the citizens of the Atmore area."
According to Davidson, Horne is expected to begin announcing tenants for its development by the end of the year.
"In addition to expanding the city revenues, the Horne development will significantly accelerate the sale of adjacent city property," Atmore Industrial Development Board Chairman Richard Maxwell said.
Horne concentrates primarily in the development of shopping centers and has competed more than 125 projects totaling more than 15 million square feet in 17 states.
"We've had some interesting reaction from some possible participants out there and it has encouraged us," Davidson said. "We have some people looking at it who can make it work in terms of retailers."
Davidson commended the city and the Industrial Development Board for being so aggressive and proactive in "jumping into 600 acres".
"I think the city should be commended for that," he said. "I think it shows a lot of forward looking; not just waiting for change to happen because that's not what it's about today, it's going out there after it. Developers, retailers and other service providers are being courted on a daily basis by cities and other entities wanting to bring them in. Most cities don't have the resources that (Atmore) has to offer here or the potential. I think that is one thing that really appealed to us, not just the opportunity to do a commercial development that would play off the interstate, but the dynamics of the area, how we saw things coming together. And we're excited to be a part of that."
Davidson said Horne Properties' marketing would determine the size of the development and whether they jump into the 90-plus acres in one phase or work in several phases.
"I think the mass (attraction, draw) is going to be one big box, whether that box is 140,000 square feet or whether its 210,000, I think it's going to take one big box," Davidson said. "That's where we're at. Otherwise, we go after five 30,000 square foot units and those are usually hard to find in this particular situation."
Prior to the press conference, the Industrial Development Board met and discussed several issues regarding Rivercane including the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) landscaping grant for the entrance and exit ramps to I-65, three avenues to take for Phase II of Rivercane and heard from project manager Jim Corman.
The board approved an expenditure up to $25,000 as the city's portion of the 80-20 grant. Preliminary budgets estimate that the landscaping would cost $120,000. Creek Indian Enterprises president and CEO Tim Martin said Poarch would split the cost with the city making the split $12,500 to $14,000 each, which should enable the city's engineering firm, Goodwyn, Mills &Caywood, to add irrigation to the project.
Council Business
In other business, the council:
"In Oak Hill and Fairview cemeteries we have some areas in which there is water standing," councilman Louie Turner, III, who serves as the Cemetery Committees chairman, said. "Back some years ago, we looked at the proposal of having manufactured mausoleums could be placed in certain areas in those cemeteries. At the last meeting, it came up again and they (committee) would like the council to make the recommendation and approve the installation of manufactured mausoleums. They can not be homemade or nothing like that, they would have to be made by a manufacturer and meet guidelines."
Although the recommendation was accepted, it is pending state standards to ensure that the city is operating within state law.
Boyle also asked for assistance in purchasing a generator for use should another hurricane hit the area. She also announced that Escambia County High School would be the designated shelter for Atmore residents.