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Prince and Tobar question county’s consultant for lake development

The Grady County Commission and Grady County Lake Authority held a joint meeting last Wednesday where they discussed a proposal to engage a firm to conduct a market research of Tired Creek Lake.
The county’s consultant on Tired Creek Lake development, William F. Butler, met with the local leaders last week to discuss his recommendation to contract with Robert Charles Lesser & Co., LLC (RCLCO) Real Estate Advisors.
Butler said an extensive market research study was critical to determining how much the county can price the property it intends to sell to a developer.
Butler was authorized to solicit requests for qualifications for the market research study and two vendors submitted bids. After it was determined that RCLCO was the preferred vendor, Butler went to work negotiating a lower cost for the county. The original proposal was for $50,000, but Butler was successful in negotiating a lower cost of $39,000 plus expenses.
The county’s consultant insisted that unless they knew the value of their asset the county could not begin negotiations with developers to sell the property around the lake.
Grady County Administrator Carlos Tobar questioned the approach Butler was suggesting and urged the board of commissioners to set their vision for the lake project formally and to adopt best practices for public/private partnerships.
Tobar said he had obtained suggested best practices from a former coworker at the City of Lodi, Calif.
The county administrator also encouraged the board to designate an area at the lake for possible commercial and industrial development.
Butler said, in his professional opinion, the most return on the county’s investment in the lake project would come from residential and recreation/commercial related development and not industrial development.
Butler said the market study would be vital in informing and attracting potential developers and give the county an understanding of what it has to sell.
“If the commission wants an industrial analysis we can see about having that done, but I’d hate not to get going on this. It will take 45 days if a day to get it done. I’m trying to get this moving and get back the info. We would need this information, regardless,” Butler said.
Tobar asked for Butler to explain what he meant by recreation and commercial related uses. Butler said that those commercial activities related to the recreational uses of the lake, for example marina, restaurant and lodging.
Butler said he certainly would not rule out anything, but he warned against taking the approach of selling out quickly. He warned if the county does the project on the cheap, it will say the development is cheap.
Butler also warned that developers could easily take advantage of the county if the board and lake authority do not have all of the research available to allow for informed decisions.
Grady County Commission Vice Chairman Ray Prince questioned why not have an appraisal done rather than the market study. Butler said that anyone doing a professional appraisal of the property would require a similar market research study. He reminded the board that he had done appraisal work earlier in his career all over the country and said that any appraiser “worth his salt” would have a market research study done to use in basing his/her appraisal.
Prince questioned why Butler had not been working on establishing a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the lake. County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley noted that in order to create a PUD the county would have to have comprehensive zoning in the unincorporated areas of the county.
“Well, that’s what we need to be working on. It should have been the first thing you (Butler) worked on,” Prince said.
Tobar said it had been recommended to him that “believable fiction” for the project must be developed and he asked Butler what is his “believable fiction.”
“A vision is great, but you’ve got to have some basis for it or it’s not believable,” Butler said. He shared his experience with the College Town project in Tallahassee, which includes $1 billion in redevelopment, and Butler said another half billion is to follow.
Butler said what he thought would work at the lake, without the benefit of the research, would be some mixed use retail, lodging such as cabins, a community venue that could be rented for special events, a restaurant and marina.
He said that the commercial activities could only be successful if the county drives the public traffic to the State Park Road boat ramp site. Butler predicted it would be difficult to attract a commercial operator if there is not enough volume.
Grady County Commissioner T.D. David said that what Tobar was suggesting was to move forward uninformed. “Making an informed decision with the help of a professional will be easier than just throwing it out there,” David said.
Butler warned that the market would not justify a commercial park or industrial park at the lake and stated that the real payback would be in residential development.
Tobar said that Commissioner LaFaye Copeland had asked that job creation be a part of the lake development. Butler said that if some type of lodging operation comes to the lake that would create jobs, but he also pointed out that with increased residential development and recreational use of the lake would also impact local businesses and could eventually lead to establishment of additional restaurants and retails shops not at the lake but in Cairo and Whigham.
Prince asked why should the county pay for a market research study when a master developer would likely want to have one of his own. Butler said the county would not want to rely on the developer to tell the county what their asset was worth. “We would want our own so that we could make an informed decision as to the worth of what we have. Every recommendation I make to you, I make it like I would my own long term interest,” Butler said.
Prince said that he had recently attended a training session in Blairsville at a conference center in the mountains overlooking a golf course. He said that a lot of meetings and conferences are hosted there. Butler said he did not think Tired Creek Lake would ever be a Callaway Garden-esque project. However, he agreed there is a need in the region for quality meeting space for conferences. He suggested some quality meeting space be incorporated into the community venue he had discussed.
Lake Authority member Travis Bryant voiced support for Butler’s recommendation. “Knowledge is power and I certainly agree this is the right approach. In response to Carlos, I think the vision is very clear. We want to preserve elements of public use and secondarily fund the debt,” Bryant said.
David asked if there was agreement to sell to a single developer. Bryant said only if selling to a single developer accomplished the goals of providing public access and a return on the investment of the county in building the lake. “If the developer is a Ted Turner who comes in and puts a lock on a big gate and says no one welcome that’s not what we set out to do,” Bryant said.
Prince concurred and said, “We need the tax base.”
However, Prince questioned Butler’s approach considering there is no infrastructure at the lake. “That’s the big difference with this compared to things you have done down there,” Prince said.
Butler said that is why he has been doing research into creative alternatives to sewer to jump start development and have some success until which time a sewer system can be built.
The county’s consultant has been successful in the past in development projects in some of the most ecologically sensitive land in the country along Florida’s west coast. Butler reminded the board and the authority they were paying him to help the county avoid the mistakes he had learned from over the last 30 years.
After much discussion, a motion was made by lake authority member Randolph H. Wind and seconded by Bryant to recommend to the county to contract with RCLCO to conduct the market research study at a cost of $39,000 plus expenses. The motion passed on a vote of 5-1 with Prince voting against. Authority member Jeff Brown was not in attendance.
Lake Authority Chairman Lee Gainous then made the formal recommendation to the county. Commissioner Keith Moye offered a motion to accept the authority’s recommendation and Commissioner David seconded the motion. Moye and David voted to accept and Vice Chairman Prince, the county’s representative on the lake authority, voted against. Commissioner LaFaye Copeland attended the majority of the meeting last week, but had departed before the vote was cast and Commission Chairman Elwyn Childs was absent.
Before the board’s vote, Commissioner David asked Prince why he was so “quiet” and if there was anything or any adjustment that could be made “to bring you into the camp?”
“Not at this point,” Prince replied.
According to RCLCO officials, the market study will evaluate existing market conditions and demand for commercial and residential needs within the region, and at the county level, and forecast what may be captured within the study area parcels, determining the influence of existing and anticipated trends and conditions on lakefront/waterfront development opportunities within the study area. RCLCO’s completed study will identify key locations in the study area where lakefront/waterfront development opportunities exist, and create a market demand matrix describing development opportunities in terms of scope/scale, market audience, pricing, product mix, amenities, absorption rates, required features and amenities and marketing considerations for the identified lakefront/waterfront development opportunities within the study area.

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