Passing motorists may see huge, empty fields soaked from winter rains, but developers and real estate agents see a potential boomtown at the newly opened Exit 14.
“The economic development aspects of a new interchange on I-985 can’t be overstated,” said Alex Wayne of Radial Property Group, developers of Tanners Creek Business Park on Thurmon Tanner Parkway.
Wayne has a “for sale” sign of his own off H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway, which crosses Exit 14 in South Hall, connecting with Martin Road at Falcon Parkway/Ga. 13. That’s the only property apparently for sale off H.F. Reed between Falcon Parkway and Thurmon Tanner.
Still, with mostly undeveloped land surrounding the diamond interchange, commercial and industrial growth is considered inevitable.
“There’s no question it will develop,” said Tim Evans, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for economic development. “The infrastructure and the city influences … hopefully will encourage it to be the best quality development that it can be.”
Plans for Exit 14 on Interstate 985 were being laid nearly two decades ago, but the project didn’t see real life until the last decade. Then it stumbled because of funding issues. Here’s a recent chronology:
Jan. 30, 2020: Exit 14 fully opens.
Sept. 3, 2019: Exit 14 opens, except for the overpass
March 2019: The Times learned that three of the four spans of the overpass crossing I-985 failed strength tests and the bridge must be redone.
March 2018: Construction is underway.
March 2017: Exit 14, now funded, is set to begin construction later in the year, the DOT says at a roads forum.
March 2016: The Georgia Department of Transportation holds a public information meeting about the interchange.
March 2015: Georgia Department of Transportation Russell McMurry announces a hold on projects being funded because of dwindling federal road money.
Sitting at the Flowery Branch-Oakwood border, some 135 acres at the exit flank H.F. Reed between Thurmon Tanner Parkway and Falcon Parkway, most of it zoned agricultural. A small chunk — about 3 acres — is designated as commercial.
Beyond the parkways lies more open plots of land, particularly along H.F. Reed as it travels west to McEver Road. Growth potential also resides on Thurmon Tanner, north and south of H.F. Reed.
The east side of Exit 14 is largely residential, as H.F. Reed becomes Martin Road and goes past JM Turk Road, traveling past subdivisions.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how (the interchange) develops,” said The Norton Agency’s Will Cobb, who’s marketing large tracts in the area. “I think you’re going to see more business and industry on the west side (of Exit 14), and more retail on the east side, because that’s where the bulk of people live.”
Oakwood City Council voted Sept. 9 to approve numerous commercial uses for 15 acres at 4207 Martin Road to highway business, including a drive-in restaurant, banks, medical offices and car washes. Hotels would be excluded on the site, which is also across the road from Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science.
The development also could spread out over six outparcels, with final site plans required to go before the City Council for approval before construction can begin.
Area residents, particularly the heavily involved Martin Road Stakeholders, opposed the rezoning.
“They should put commercial enterprises on the other side of 985 where the industries are, not belly up to two residential areas,” said Gary McClung, one of the more vocal residents, before the vote. “The property in question is part of a residential area.”
The interchange may also be having some industrial effect.
In November, the council approved a 50-acre industrial development on W. White Road. It would have two buildings — one 160,000 square feet and the other 250,000 square feet. At the time, no tenants had been signed. The buildings are “speculative,” meaning they will be marketed to various users.
Area government officials said Exit 14 has stirred interest since it was entirely opened Jan. 30. Entrance and exit ramps opened Sept. 3, as crews completed work on the overpass.
Flowery Branch has gotten “a lot of inquiries, but nothing has been formally submitted to the city,” city planner Rich Atkinson said.
Flowery Branch Mayor Mike Miller has said he believes developers will see the interchange “as a prime piece of real estate.”
“Obviously, we hope it will bring some good development to the city limits and South Hall area,” he said.
And Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown said, “We do think the new interchange will not only improve existing traffic flow for all but will also be a stimulus for more development in the H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway and Thurmon Tanner Parkway corridors.”
It’s all been a long time coming, Cobb said.
“I’ve been selling this since the late ’90s, early 2000s, when it was first announced (the exit) was going to happen,” he said. “The anticipation of it has been great for a very long time.”