With commercial developers waiting on their heels, St. Clair County officials have begun the process of making roughly 70 acres of land at MidAmerica Airport available for purchase.
The process of selling land regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration can be complicated and lengthy. But with at least one developer lined up to buy roughly 17 acres of land, county officials have given their approval to the sale.
Bobcat is expected to be the first business to develop part of the land for sale near the Rieder Road exit from Interstate 64. The company plans to develop 15.6 acres for new and used construction equipment sales along with service and rentals.
A franchisee of the North Dakota-based company operates a smaller facility in Fairview Heights that would close after a new facility opened, Beach said. The Fairview Heights branch manager declined to comment until further details were finalized.
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The new 30,000-square-foot facility will cost roughly $3.4 million to develop, according to county Economic Development Director Terry Beach. Construction could begin as soon as the spring.
The land will go for $50,000 per acre. Revenue from the sale must either go into the FAA Trust Fund or toward the airport’s maintenance, development and operation.
Airport Director Tim Cantwell says the money will be used for those purposes as well as any budget shortfalls. This would be similar to how the airport used revenue two years ago from selling land for the development of Exit 21 off Interstate 64 to Rieder Road, Cantwell said.
Money from land sales goes into a general fund used for maintenance, development and operation, Cantwell said.
Though revenues and passenger traffic have increased in recent years along with flight frequency, St. Clair County still subsidizes the airport annually. In 2017, $8.59 million went to the airport from taxpayer coffers compared to $8.29 million in 2016, according to the county’s most recent audit.
Airport officials and County Board members recently approved a plan to submit an application to the FAA for $24 million to $28 million in grant funding for renovations at MidAmerica. St. Clair County would still pay $6 million to 7 million in match money for renovations if they receive the grant.
Economic development near Rieder Road
In 2017, the Illinois Department of Transportation built a new exit from Interstate 64 to Rieder Road to open up access to the land originally slated for the National Geospatial Agency.
Other non-aeronautical businesses could develop the rest of the land in that area, said the county’s economic development director.
“We like to say that growth follows infrastructure,” Beach said. “The I-64 corridor is the primary growth corridor in the county along with the I-255 corridor and Illinois 15. They still have a lot of room to grow.”
Beach said it was important to retain Bobcat in St. Clair County rather than let it develop elsewhere.
“We saw this as a retention project. The backbone of economic development is retention. The other side generally speaking is attraction, trying to bring new jobs. But retention is the backbone, keeping what you’ve got here,” Beach said.
The next step in attracting more developments to the area is to secure a zoning change to general industrial from farm land, Beach said. The St. Clair County Zoning Board of Appeals approved that change at their most recent meeting and the County Board is expected to consider the measure at their meeting Monday.
“That will make it easier for us to respond to future companies like Bobcat quicker,” Beach said.
Bobcat could also benefit from tax incentives if the new property is added to the MidAmerica Enterprise Zone, which includes parts of O’Fallon, Lebanon, Mascoutah, Shiloh and unincorporated St. Clair County.
The county’s Public Building Commission, the group that oversees the airport and all county building projects, approved the sale at their October meeting. The County Board approved the sale at their September meeting.