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Commission approves Farm Center memorandum of understanding

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Managing Editor

Expectations for the Alabama Farm Center project’s three phases has been put in writing.

A memorandum of understanding outlining each phase of the project has been signed by the Alabama Farmers Federation through its Alabama Rural Economic Center and the Alabama Agriculture Authority of Chilton County.

AREC is a nonprofit formed by the Alabama Farmers Federation as a part of the Alabama Farm Center project.

On May 27, the Alabama Agriculture and Exhibition Center Cooperative District board met and unanimously approved authorizing Chairman Matthew Mims to sign the MOU. About half an hour later, the Chilton County Commission met in a special called meeting where Chairman Joseph Parnell was authorized to sign the document.

Commissioners Randell Kelley, Darrell Bone, Joe Headley and Parnell voted in favor.

Commissioner Allen Williams voted against.

“There is just not enough information,” Williams said. “This is not binding, correct?”

“That is correct,” Parnell said.

Commissioners Jimmie Hardee and Mims were absent.

The Commission had approved suspending the rules that usually require a work session discussion prior to a vote.

The MOU is a “non-binding” document, none of the signers are legally required to do anything.

“This is non-binding, so it’s not life threatening, if you vote wrong,” Parnell said. “It is just to get us moving to that next step of a binding contract.”

The document states that it is “executed to provide a framework for further discussion and final documentation of the obligations of the parties.”

Aspects of each phase are listed without a cost associated with it.

The next step for each of the parties would be to sign a project agreement and then a contract of operations.

“We have been working for this day for probably two and a half to three years,” Whitney Barlow, Chilton County Industrial Development Authority executive director, said.

The IDA serves as a facilitator for the groups involved in the project to help ensure paperwork is moving forward and assist the local groups with navigating their portions of the project.

A MOU is often signed at the beginning of a project.

 

Phase 1

Phase 1 is listed as timber removal for the Phase 1 site (which has been completed), infrastructure improvements for 230 acres of the property, water and sewer services to the site, road improvements for access to the site on Highway 145, an exhibition and workforce center estimated to be 150,000 square feet, a livestock arena estimated to be 77,400 square feet with seating for at least 1,000, covered arena proposed to have two meeting rooms and a kitchen and bathroom, and a livestock arena estimated to be 168,756 square feet.

Barlow said a Community Development Block Grant COVID-19 funds has been applied for the covered arena.

Commencement of construction for Phase 1 has been estimated to be June 15, 2021 with completion expected by Dec. 15, 2022.

Williams asked about the MOU listing the water and sewer as coming from Chilton County.

“That means that if we don’t get it through the city that the county is going to provide it,” Parnell said. “One way or another we are going to make sure that water and sewer are there.”

“The city has already committed multiple times to providing that,” Williams said.

Kelley said there was hesitancy to assume the city of Clanton would provide the service.

“The reason we are not looking at the city right now, Allen, is because the city wanted to provide water and sewer and collect about 60% of the revenue from this project, us provide 70 to 80% of expenses and only get 30% or 40% (of the revenue).”

Since the MOU is not a legally binding document, the city could still provide this infrastructure to the site.

“These four buildings who will be funding them?” Williams asked.

Chilton County Commission Attorney Roger Bates explained that the parties involved would each be contributing financially to the project as a whole, not to specific buildings.

He said that B.L. Harbert will serve as the project manager for the entire project, and funding will be toward the full project.

“The county is going to make a contribution toward the final cost for construction,” Bates said.

The exhibition center has simply been the first one being discussed. How much will be contributed is yet to be determined.

The IDA has contracted with Convention Sports and Leisure as a consultant for $43,500 to provide another evaluation of how large each building needs to be and estimated costs. A report is expected in the next two to three weeks, according to Parnell.

 

Phase 2

Phase 2 is listed as timber removal for the Phase 2 site, infrastructure for approximately 20 acres of the property, a large arena estimated to seat at least 4,500 people and the RV park.

Harvest of timber is expected it to be completed no later than March 31, 2022.

Construction is expected to begin prior to Dec. 15, 2022.

 

Phase 3

Phase 3 is listed to include an amphitheater and an outdoor event venue.

A timeline for this aspect of the project was not included in the memorandum of understanding.