Economic development still at the forethought for former Farm Center site

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, June 8, 2022

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By Carey Reeder | Staff Writer

Now that the ownership of the former Farm Center property off Interstate 65, Exit 212 has reverted back to the city of Clanton and the Chilton County Commission, discussion has begun about what will happen next.

“We had to get the property back in our name, and there are some ideas,” Chilton County Commission Chairman Jimmie Hardee said. “But an idea is never going to be nothing without a plan. We have ‘coffee shop talk’ about what could go over there, and we are hoping to get something that are tourist attractions, (that) is what we want being we are centrally located.”

The Commission had considered purchasing several other pieces of property in the area.

“There were contracts on five-six pieces of property, but we only bought one piece of property,” Hardee said. “The only other property that was bought was the Ellison property. The only land that the county bought was the 10 acres from the Ellison property.”

The former Ellison property, was approved for purchase on March 23, 2021. The just over 10 acres of land was bought for $1.2 million.

Any funds spent on options for additional property at Exit 212 will be reimbursed to the County. The only money that was lost was $44,000 in earnest money, according to Hardee.

Hardee gave a press conference on June 7 at the Chilton County Courthouse that stated “that the Farm Center project will not be moving forward at this time.”

The 500 plus acres the Farm Center was to be constructed on was transferred back to the county and the city of Clanton on June 1, putting Chilton County and the city of Clanton in joint ownership of the land again.

Hardee said at the press conference that the Farm Center project was not moving forward due to new provisions from ALFA/ Alabama Farmers Federation being added to the final attempt at an agreement. The provision said that there would be additional tax revenues committed to the Farm Center development from outside the 233 acres, under a plan that would have split the site between the Alabama Farm Center and a local project.

“The elected officials of this county could not stand by and put this county in debt, and the future of our children and grandchildren in debt to make sure this project comes,” Hardee said. “When there was talk about funding that would help ALFA, that funding agreement would be discussed after the project was up and going, not before. It could be premature, and I made that statement it would be premature of us to discuss that and what will happen five years from now … You do not know what administration will be here five years from now.”

Hardee reiterated in a June 8 interview that the overall focus of the project was economic development in Chilton County, and that is still the focus for the land moving forward.

The Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell released a statement saying, “We remain committed to building the Farm Center and have begun evaluating other locations. The work we’ve done over the last two years has strengthened our resolve to develop a premier farm center and event complex in our state. The Federation and the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation (AFAF) have invested a tremendous amount of time and money in the Farm Center project. I wanted it to work in Chilton County. We put in a good effort to make it work, but when there isn’t cooperation among all local government officials, it’s impossible to be successful with an economic development project of this size. I am thankful for the Chilton County commissioners who did work so hard with us to try to make this happen.”