After more than a month of discussion, the Gainesville City Council chose to sell its final 28 acres of Industrial Park West property to the owner of Cowart Mulch Products, but the decision may cause one existing industry to leave Gainesville.
Presented with the option of selling the property to two industries — one a regional mulch-processing plant, the other an existing plastics-related industry that wanted to relocate its Midwestern headquarters to Gainesville — the majority of the Gainesville City Council voted to bring in the mulch industry that promises to recycle "green waste."
Chris Cowart, owner of Cowart Mulch Products, told city officials a week ago that his wood-chopping industry would be a quiet one that would "make a lot more jobs" in Gainesville in a few years.
Cowart’s partner in the deal, Danny Scroggs, also promised to donate an 8-inch water main to the city as well as an easement for access to the property if the city chose to sell the property to Cowart. Scroggs, who owns all of the property that was once called Chicopee Mills, originally built the water main to protect his property from fire.
"I’ve since signed — I started not to, but I did — an easement, and I guess, a fifth of this (water) line to the city," Scroggs told the council. "But if this deal doesn’t go through ... I"m going to get that back, because I have no reason to donate anything to the city if I don’t gain access or gain use of this property here," he said.
Cowart also said his type of business would bring grant opportunities to the Gainesville government, and that is one of the many reasons Councilwoman Ruth Bruner said she voted in favor of selling the property to Cowart Mulch Products.
"I think it will be a good thing for Gainesville to have that type of company in there to use up some of ... the wood chips, and the sticks and the branches that come from construction and clearing land so that we can make them into something useful," Bruner said. " I think there may be some grant possibilities the city can take advantage of by having that kind of operation in the city."
The decision may cause the other, Midwest-based industry to take its business elsewhere, said Tim Evans, vice president of the Gainesville-Hall County Economic Development Authority, who represented the company that also wanted the 28-acre tract.
"This obviously changes plans for the company, and they have to look at what other sites are available to them," Evans said. "They’ve shared that that includes sites that aren’t in Gainesville and sites that, quite frankly, aren’t in Hall County, too."
Evans would not name the industry, but in the past Evans has said that it is a plastics-related industry with about 30 employees in Gainesville. The company is currently based in the Midwest, but wanted the 28-acre tract in Industrial Park West so it could relocate its headquarters to Gainesville, providing about 60 extra jobs in the next two years, Evans said.
The tract was one of the only pieces of industrial park property left in the area, and that may be why the company has to relocate.
"We’re very short on sites that are located in industrial parks with covenants, and that’s what this company was attracted to in Gainesville Industrial Park West," Evans said.
The property, situated between Kubota and Continental Tire in the park, was not an easy piece of property for a building, said Gainesville City Manager Bryan Shuler. With Georgia Power and sewer easements as well as a bevy of wetlands and streams crossing the property, only about 40 percent of the property could be used for buildings, Shuler said.
However, the city still found itself with two suitors offering identical amounts of money for the site.
"That’s a very unusual situation," said Shuler.
After hearing from both the potential developers, the council voted in a split 3-2 decision to award the sale of the property to Cowart.
Mayor Myrtle Figueras and Councilman Bob Hamrick both dissented.
After the meeting, Hamrick said he thought the mulch business was not compatible with the other, manufacturing-type industries in Industrial Park West.
Figueras’ vote was based more on principal, she said.
"One person had had the chance to go ahead and make use of the property, but had not done it," said Figueras. "When another person came along to decide to do it, then he had changed his mind."
"I figured, ‘you had already had the opportunity, then let somebody else use it,’" Figueras said. "That was me and just the principal of the thing."
Figueras said she did not have a strong feeling, either way, but Bruner said her vote was a hard decision.
"(The plastics company is) a great company, and I hope that we can find a place for them, because I sure don’t want to lose them.
"All of us were very very torn on which way to go on that," Bruner said.