IDB: Rivercane sound investment

Published 9:39 am Monday, February 28, 2011

Nearly five years ago, the City of Atmore embarked on a 643-acre commercial development project at Interstate 65 with high hopes in mind.

A few business acquisitions and a recession later, Atmore Industrial Development officials agree the project was a sound investment for the city and remain optimistic, despite the $16 million debt service for land acquisition and infrastructure owed.

“I’m convinced that it’s a sound investment,” IDB Chairman Richard Maxwell said. “We were obviously set back by the economy as were many investments and many business, but we have been real encouraged by the inquiries that we’ve got in the last several months. If Hampton Inn and McDonald’s get started in the next several months, I think that will change the perspective of everything.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Holiday Inn Express, the first commitment to Rivercane, and Hardee’s are both enjoying success in the development. Maxwell said the two businesses already provide nearly $200,000 in tax revenue for the city each year.

“It is really doing well,” Maxwell said. “You’ve got to spend money to make money. This is certainly a long-term investment. To look at the option, and that would have been to have never owned that, would have been a disaster. That is the entrance to our community now.”

Fellow IDB board member Shep Marsh agreed that Rivercane was a sound investment, adding that you can’t make decisions based on the unknown.

“I would start by reminding myself and everybody else that you make your decisions based on what you know when you make them, not five years later,” he said. “That being said, I think it was the right decision to do what the city did. I was not involved in it at the time when most of the decisions as far as acquisitions were made, but I clearly think it was the right decision and still think it was the right decision. It didn’t exactly turnout the way we envisioned it, but I’m not sure that today is the way that many people envisioned things would be five years ago in any facet of their lives. And I think ultimately it’s going to turnout great for the city.”

Bob Jones, who also serves on the IDB, and Maxwell both pointed out the two goals in mind when Rivercane was developed: creating jobs and generating a revenue stream in terms of sales taxes for the City of Atmore.

“The acquisition of prime real estate had been a long-term necessity for the city going back decades,” Jones said. “And the opportunity to do that came along and what was seen as a fair structure, but who knew what the next few years would evolve with the economy turning like it has. If you look out there today and see what exists, it’s a pretty significant presence. As the economy recovers and there is more activity, the opportunities are there for more job creation and tax revenue to the city, which is what that was all about.”

All of the board members agree that it has been slow-going in terms of commercial commitments at Rivercane.

“I don’t think anybody is happy that there hasn’t been more activity than we have seen, but we are seeing activity, and there is a noticeable increase in the inquiries,” Jones said. “That’s encouraging.”

It’s also encouraging to Escambia County Industrial Development Board Executive Director Marshall Rogers, who said she sees Rivercane, the only developed commercial property between Montgomery and Mobile, as an advantage for Atmore.

“It is an opportunity for Atmore to have some new retail businesses and light industrial that we would not otherwise have without purchasing the property,” she said. “It gives us another marketing tool for our city. I feel like it is still a sound investment.”

The success of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ new $238 million gaming facility, Wind Creek Casino & Hotel, has created additional attention for Rivercane, Marsh said.

“I think from the standpoint from what the Tribe has done out there, which has been much more than anybody envisioned, except maybe them; I think it’s been tremendous,” Marsh said. “I hear comments about it all over the Southeast from people that go by here. I think that part of it has been much greater than we probably thought. The economy has hurt a lot of things including Rivercane, but certainly the various businesses in this town and people’s travel. I think it’s just part of it. I think the city has done the right thing and continues to do the right thing. There are probably some people that disagreed with the city taking that step then and they probably haven’t changed their minds, but I personally think it was the right thing.”

Other IDB members include Tommy Moore, Jim Johnson, Peggie Byrd and Sheilo Faircloth. Joe Webb serves as the Rivercane project manager.