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Wallace property may lure BRAC companies
Office space, industry, hotel possible for site, study says

By Evan Belanger
ebelanger@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

A proposal for the best possible land uses of the old Lurleen B. Wallace Developmental Center calls for the evolvement of more than 100 acres of additional office and light-industry space in Decatur.

It also calls for the development of about five acres of retail space along U.S. 31 South where the Wallace Center is located.

The study, which was presented Thursday at the center, lays out a plan for developing the vacant, 160-acre property to take advantage of Base Realignment and Closure-related jobs and companies expected to relocate to North Alabama.

According to Andrew Burell, president of Birmingham-based Burell Group, which helped conduct the study along with Chicago-based Economic Research Associates, the office-space option makes sense.

He said land-use estimates for Decatur show only about 1 percent of its available property dedicated to office space.

"We feel that with this large influx of Department of Defense jobs there will be a high demand for office space, possibly as high as 1.7 million square feet," he said.

According to the study, which took about 14 weeks to complete, the availability of the property could help Decatur capture as much as 15 percent of the BRAC-related influx in North Alabama, mostly from Department of Defense contract companies.

A land-use map provided with the study shows about 50 acres being developed for office space as soon as possible and the rest to be developed as industrial property over a 10-year period.

The plan also predicted a possible hotel at the site within 10 years and called for the immediate demolition of the center's 21 existing buildings.

"It will definitely be more attractive to developers, if the buildings are gone," Burell said.

With the property in the control of the Alabama Department of Mental Health/Mental Retardation, officials did not say Thursday when a decision would be made.

According to the department's advisory attorney, Ashley Nichols, efforts will be made to contact possible developers and seek formal input from local officials before the final decision is made.

"I can't say if it will be in the next couple weeks or in the next couple months, but we'll move as quickly as possible," he said.

Reaction to the state-funded study from local officials was reserved.

County Commission Chairman John Glasscock suggested portions of the land be used for public parks and recreation facilities, and Mayor Don Kyle suggested other state agencies in Decatur be relocated to the site.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, raised concerns about the timing of the development.

"As far as BRAC is concerned, timing is critical," he said. "We have got to get this facility out there and get potential developers looking at, analyzing it and hopefully pursuing it as soon as possible."

According to military estimates, the BRAC influx is expected to peak in North Alabama by 2010. Burell said it would probably take about two years to finish work on the property once a developer is found.

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