By Carey Reeder | Personal editor
Chilton County Commission Chairman Jimmie Hardee held a June 7 press conference at the Chilton County Courthouse to discuss the status of the Alabama Farm Center project.
“Due to some recent events regarding the status of the Alabama Farm Center project, I feel the need to inform the citizens of Chilton County of some disappointing news that impacts the future of the ALFA project, known as of Alabama Rural Economic Center,” Hardee said. “After several attempts to speak with AFF (Alabama Farmers Federation) Representative Jimmy Parnell regarding the final execution of this Letter of Intent, I am disappointed and discouraged to report that the Farm Center project will not be moving forward for I informed Mr. Parnell that the people of Chilton County need to hear the truth and understand why this project is not moving forward.
The City of Clanton and the commission submitted a revised letter of intent to expedite the process by submitting a letter containing nine previously agreed-upon commitments between the three stakeholders – Clanton, the commission and the Alabama Federation of Farmers.
The latest agreement would shrink the project to 233 acres “to allow for more flexible and responsible development of the entire agricultural center complex,” Hardee said.
The site plan provided by the Alabama Federation of Farmers did not include the 5,000-seat air-conditioned arena or parking for RVs or other recreational vehicles. The remainder of the property would be retained by the city and county.
Hardee said those negotiations reached a crossroads because ALFA representatives wanted to add a letter of intent provision after the Farm Center was completed. The provision stated that there would be additional tax revenue incurred for the development of the Farm Center outside of the 233 acres.
Hardee said the original agreement was that Farm Center would retain all revenue within the 233 acres for debt and maintenance, and would not discuss any revenue outside of Farm Center until the project was completed.
“Mayor (Jeff) Mims and I agreed that it would be premature for us to accept a funding source in five years. It would be the sole responsibility of the leaders and elected officials at that time,” Hardee said.
In 2015, the commission and the Town of Clanton began the process of exploring industrial development for the benefit of local businesses and county citizens.
“Economic development is a team sport that involves both government leadership and private sector involvement,” Hardee said. “It requires the commitment of multiple stakeholders to develop a long-term strategic vision for a project to be successful. Stakeholders must agree on a common vision for a project and combine their resources, including financial support, to create the incentive to forge a healthy and functioning partnership.
Hardee noted that this is not an easy task and that changes throughout the life of the project can affect its completion, which “is beyond the control of public officials and can alter the course of a project from start to finish.
On December 8, 2015, the commission and the city of Clanton acquired 535 acres of land off Interstate 65, exit 212 to be used for economic development.
On February 27, 2019, the Alabama Federation of Farmers, the commission, and the city of Clanton held a press conference to announce the site of the proposed $150 million agricultural complex, or Alabama Rural Economic Center.
In January 2021, ALFA told the city and the commission that it was ready to move forward with the construction of the agricultural center and asked them to transfer the title deeds to the AFF or the cooperative district. The city and the commission agreed to do so under a limited warranty deed which had several provisions including – the Alabama Farmers Federation must begin construction of the new facility within 12 months of the date of transfer of the deed, and the Alabama Federation of Farmers would commit to building a minimum of 350 square feet of floor space within 12 months of the transfer of the deed. Otherwise, the property would be returned to the City and County of Chilton, which it did in May 2022.
Hardee became Chairman of the Commission in November 2021 and continued negotiations between stakeholders.
“Our intentions were to reach agreement on material terms that would best benefit all entities, and most importantly Chilton County ratepayers,” Hardee said.
Hardee said that since 2019 there have been numerous attempts to develop a contract with all parties that would allow the project to move forward, but to no avail.
Hardee addressed the 1-cent sales tax that was passed for “infrastructure, public safety and economic development” at the end of the press conference.
“This important tax was never created, endorsed, promoted, or restricted solely to the agricultural center,” Hardee said. “We are indeed disappointed that the agricultural center is not moving forward. However, the commission has other sites and properties that we promote for economic growth and opportunity in our county.