Atlanta debates land deal at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport

Atlanta city and airport officials insisted Wednesday that a $32.4 million purchase of up to 60 acres of the old Ford plant site on the airports eastern edge is a good deal despite a higher land cost than a developer paid three years ago.
I think this will end up being an appropriate purchase, said C.T. Martin, chairman of the city councils transportation committee, which along with the finance committee will review the deal before it goes to full council.

The site is just off the eastern end of Hartsfield-Jackson Internationals runways and could eventually be used for parking decks. Federal money could pay much of the cost.

But some Atlanta residents remain deeply skeptical. In an e-mail to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, local accountant Evelyn Brethour questioned why the city didnt buy the property directly from Ford, or even negotiate to get the land for free.

In 2008, Jacoby Development bought the Ford plant site with plans to turn it into a business district. The developer paid a reported $40.3 million for 122 acres, or about $330,300 per acre, vs. the airports offer of nearly $541,000 per acre now.

The price is way too high, said Jamie Olson of north Atlanta. Ill grant you the property around it is going to be developed, but to pay a 60 percent premium in two years is outrageous. The city must negotiate this price down.

After buying the property, Jacoby spent tens of millions to raze buildings and clean up industrial waste. Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Louis Miller said demolition and clean-up costs were roughly $279,000 per acre, and a Jacoby representative said that number was accurate.

Combined with the original purchase price, the total value of the land would be about $610,000 per acre, more than what the city is offering to pay.

The city wouldve had to do the same thing (Jacoby) did, Miller said, referring to demolition and clean-up. They would have had to tear the buildings down.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it encouraged the city to buy the land as soon as word spread that the Ford plant was closing. But around that time, the airport was in the midst of or completing huge projects including building a fifth runway, new tower, and international terminal.

The FAA encourages airports to control runway protection zones off the end of runways. It wants airports to discourage the development of churches, schools and homes close to the runways.

Officials say they expect the FAA to chip in millions of dollars to help pay for the land. The FAA said it expects a grant application soon.

The airport requested appraisals of the land from MVC Consulting, Cushman & Wakefield and Childers Associates between October 2010 and March 2011. Those appraisals ranged from roughly $435,000 to more than $800,000. It was unclear why the highest appraisal, by Childers, was so much higher.

We just think what we paid was very fair, Miller said. It fits in the middle (of the appraisals) and we think its a fair price. You negotiate and negotiate and get the best deal you can.

One possible use for the land is parking. The long-term garage under construction for the international terminal has about 2,600 parking spaces and it could be expanded to 4,000. But the airport anticipates that would only be enough for the next five to seven years.

After that, the airport may use the Jacoby land for parking. But because it is a runway protection zone, there are limits on what can be done with the land.

We just want to use the land for the future development of the airport, Miller said. We dont know what it will be for sure.
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