Joe Max Higgins, Jr., CEO of the Golden Triangle Development LINK, an economic development group representing the Columbus, Mississippi, region, has long been known for his energy and proactivity on behalf of his territory. That energy was on full display in December 2016 when 60 Minutes paid a visit.
But it’s been an asset for a long time in his day-to-day work — including the due diligence required in megasite assembly.
A few months before the newsmagazine came calling, Higgins and TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson announced that a third TVA-Certified Megasite — the Infinity Megasite — had been approved in Lowndes County, after a 9-month process conducted by program partner McCallum-Sweeney.
Located west of the Golden Triangle Regional Airport, the 100-percent-community-owned site is part of the Golden Triangle Industrial Aerospace Park. The county is home to a third of the nine TVA Megasites across the utility’s multi-state territory.
“Megasites have a short shelf life of potential success,” said Higgins, “so we need to act quickly with our partners to identify clients and land a deal.”
That’s the sort of outlook communities everywhere take when they put together the sort of parcels we track every year: land tracts measuring at least 1,000 acres (405 hectares) that are open to potential industrial development by a single end user.
A New Clearinghouse
Growing interest in large sites and in brownfield sites inspired a group of experienced attorneys and environmental experts in 2015 to launch Brownfield Listings, LLC, based in Chicago. Dan French, CEO, says there were plenty of one-off efforts to identify and inventory brownfields in the past, but some of those efforts have not aged well. So it’s time for a total refresh.
“We think there’s an ocean of undiscovered real estate out there,” says French. “People just need to lean forward again, and get optimistic. A lot of people in these communities have given up. We want to bring these things to market, and finally clean it all up. These are the best redevelopment fundamentals ever. We’re doing more brownfields than we’ve ever done.”
French, an attorney by training, comes by his knowledge of brownfields firsthand, having worked for BP in helping to clean up and get on the market hundreds of gas stations and other properties. He saw the opportunity for an off-the-shelf tool to help with the hard-core analysis of real estate due diligence.
“We’re kind of a pre-market,” he says. “We’re basically Zillow for redevelopment.”
French says his team has tracked Chinese developers looking at their properties, but he says, “A lot of industrial interest is coming from US companies looking to re-evaluate their supply chain. US companies are retrenching, which is exciting.”
Blue, Bright and Huge
French says the site’s RFPs are still getting an 80-percent response rate. Sometimes the firm works in the other direction too: Last year featured a search for a megasite with waterway access for a large-scale industrial user wanting to land in Oregon, Washington or Idaho.
That’s indicative of a type of site is focusing on: the “bluefield,” i.e. sites that are either near water or feature water resources and capacity. Another new term? Brightfields — as in redevelopment of sites with renewable energy installation potential. With credits still available and solar costs down by 80 percent, says French, “the economics are there even without incentives.” He thinks many industrial parks should consider cordoning off a percent of their available land for renewable power. And it goes beyond stalled industrial land.
“There will be a great time in years to come to bring your landfill to market,” French says.