Columbia Water and Light revenues might be used to buy Sutter site

Friday, May 10, 2013 | 6:21 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The city of Columbia might buy its first "shovel-ready" certified site for $3 million.

The Sutter property is located at Waco and Paris roads and is owned by the Harold L. and Dixie S. Henrikson Trust and Robinson Farms, LLC. It would be used as a tool by the city to attract new businesses.

Shovel-ready sites are properties that are fully equipped with infrastructure and utilities. The Sutter site is one of three in Columbia, along with the Ewing and Discovery Ridge sites, which are privately owned.

The Water and Light Department proposed spending $2 million from its electric enterprise funds during the next two fiscal years to buy the Sutter property. The proposal is included in the 2014 Capital Improvement Plan draft. That amount would be added to the $1 million the city has appropriated toward the purchase.

Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said the 100-acre Sutter property is suitable for several different types of industrial use.

“It’s like a marketing tool to show we have land and infrastructure to set up their type of business in Columbia,” St. Romaine said.

He said one of the issues the city and REDI encounter when working with economic development is the unavailability of shovel-ready land with appropriate zoning. That makes it hard to meet a developer’s needs when trying to attract them to Columbia.

If the city owned the Sutter site, businesses that would locate there wouldn't have to wade through a lengthy rezoning process, St. Romaine said. The site is zoned for industrial use, and the utilities would be ready for immediate use for an interested business. 

The city has shown interest for several years in establishing a data center on the site, which would contain storage systems for interested businesses. 

The Water and Light reserve money would be used as a loan, which will be paid back when an interested business moves to the property, according to Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala.

"I think it's reasonable to suggest it may be a wise investment to have some city control over how that site is used," Skala said.

REDI president Mike Brooks said certified sites make it easier to attract firms interested in locating in Columbia.

“The easier the community can make that process for the customer, the better that site will be evaluated,” he said. “It tells the customer a lot of pre-work to make the site developed has already been done.”

The city entered a contract in April 2010 with the option to purchase pieces of Sutter property until 2015, when it must buy the full property for $3 million. If the city found interested buyers for all or some of the land, it could purchase tracts and then owe the rest by the 2015 deadline.

“Basically, from the start of that agreement until now, we have not been able to find an attractive firm that was interested in locating to that property,” St. Romaine said. 

Mike Brooks said REDI has received requests for small tracts but nothing that it has been able to carry to a sale yet.

“Nothing has changed,” St. Romaine said. “The economy has not been kind the last few years, but from a business decision, it’s still an attractive piece of property.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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