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Target developer makes pitch
Morgan school board members listen to offer for Alabama 67 property

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com · 340-2432

The developer of The Crossings made his pitch Thursday to the Morgan County school board on why both sides would benefit from the sale of the board’s Alabama 67 central office property.

Although the two didn’t enter into negotiations, it was obvious that GBT Realty and the school board are far apart.

George Tomlin, an owner of GBT Realty, is offering $2.4 million for the 12 acres, about $200,000 an acre. GBT would use the property for the 117,724-square-foot Phase 2 of The Crossings, Decatur’s newest retail development.

Using property tax payments, GBT estimates that the property is 12 acres, while the school Finance Director Rodger Spillers said the property is just more than 13 acres.

Tomlin said $200,000 an acre is what he paid to buy the land for Phase 1, a development anchored by Target and Old Navy. Tomlin said the department store asked to be included in the project, but there is no land left in Phase 1. The store’s interest is what prompted him to seek Morgan County School Board land.

“We’re the only ones that can (develop the school land),” Tomlin told The Decatur Daily editorial board earlier Thursday afternoon. “Nobody else can tap into our development. Obviously we wouldn’t allow that to happen.”

He said the school’s land is prime property that, because it is not earning sales and property taxes, is underutilized.

“We see a win-win for the city and the county. It’s a piece of property being underutilized as far as highest and best use. It’s not paying any real estate taxes, it’s not paying any sales tax. It’s not generating anything for the county or the city,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin said the cost per acre usually drops as most developments grow. He said the bank financing the development had to go to Huntsville to find a comparable development when appraising the project.

He projected the county school system could benefit from $349,226 from additional sales and property tax from Phase 2, which he could be an “upscale clothing story that women will be more excited about than men.” He did not have a projection for Phase 1 tax revenues.

“We don’t have to develop it, and you don’t have to sell it, but we think it’s a win-win situation,” Tomlin said. “The school board will realize value in other use and reap the benefits for years to come.”

Superintendent Bob Balch said he would not be interested in selling the central office property for $200,000 an acre. A recent appraisal estimated the price at between $750,000 and $850,000 per acre. School officials also point out that the neighboring 2.9-acre Ramada Limited is asking about $1.7 million an acre.

“That’s an asking price (of Ramada price tag),” Tomlin said. “But you couldn’t get that much in Buckhead (Ga.).”

Tomlin said he tried to find someone to buy the motel and fix it up, but the owner keeps increasing the asking price.

Tomlin said he is not in a hurry to reach a decision, but the retail store interested in Phase 2 would like to have an agreement in place by 2008. He said he can only pay so much for land because the retailer can only pay so much rent.

After hearing Tomlin’s pitch, school board members agreed they need more information before they decide how to proceed. That includes the legalities of a sale, like whether they can move the central office out of the Morgan County seat, Decatur. They also want to know the cost to build or move about 10 buildings.

School board member Mike Tarpley, a real estate agent, said the school system could only benefit in patience. While Tomlin paid $200,000 an acre for Phase 1, Tarpley said that phase is making surrounding property worth more.

“The tax figures he presented are attractive, but we’re in a good location,” Tarpley said.

Business Writer Eric Fleischauer contributed to this story.

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