Memorandum of understanding agreement altered to reschedule construction timeline

Joint Development Authority issues update on Lidl investment

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A change to the original schedule for a planned, $100 million capital investment in Bartow County was approved at a Bartow-Cartersville Second Joint Development Authority meeting Friday.

"Lidl has asked for some flexibility in the delivery of their jobs and investment and honestly, our community needs some flexibility in delivering some infrastructure to the site at the end of the park," said Cartersville-Bartow County Department of Economic Development Executive Director Melinda Lemmon. "The JDA recommended to this board that we just suspend the dates in the original [memorandum of understanding.] It gives everybody a little more time, that we come back in six months, see what the construction timeline looks like at that point in time and then we'll kind of go from there as to when certain things need to be delivered or implemented."

That six-month recommendation, Cartersville Assistant City Attorney E. Keith Lovell said, came directly from the state. 

"We actually told [them], 'ya'll tell us how long you want us to do it for?'" he said.

The updated MOU also includes a 30-day "out clause" for both parties. 

"If somebody else came and wanted that property, we could let them know and they would tell us within 30 days whether it would be available or not," Lovell said. 

Lemmon said that scenario is about as unlikely as it gets, however. In fact, she guaranteed that the Germany-based supermarket chain is indeed going to open its new regional headquarters and distribution center in the Highland 75 park in Bartow County.

"The project's still solid," she said. "Everybody just needs a little more time to implement the vision, especially since it's in an area of Highland 75 we call 'Phase II' ... Lidl has chosen a spot that was mutually beneficial, but we knew we needed time to get the infrastructure, particularly, the road." 

Lemmon said the change to the MOU doesn't constitute a postponement to the overall development of the distribution center. 

"Obviously, there are certain conversations that need to happen, but I wouldn't use the word 'delay,'" she said. "It just makes it more comfortable for everyone to deliver, whether it's the infrastructure or the jobs, in a reasonable period of time."

Lidl, which employs more than 300,000 people in 10,000-plus stores in more than two dozen countries, announced plans to open the distribution center in the industrial park off Cass White Road last summer. 

Since then, a new leadership group has emerged at Lidl. Lemmon said they have no plans to scale back the size or scope of their local capital investment.

"The former leadership was great to work with and the new leadership has a fresh vision," Lemmon said. "It's been really great to work with them, too. They've gone out of their way to make sure they communicate with us to understand their vision."

There is still no hard date in place for when construction on the distribution center will begin. That, Lemmon said, hinges on how soon Lidl can increase the number of stores it has within the region.

"Their priority is to get as many grocery stores built in Georgia and the Southeast United States as possible, so that has pushed the timeline back for our distribution center just a bit," she said. "I don't think that's as far along as they'd like to see it. I think they are trying to work very hard to get those stores to come to fruition, which makes the distribution center even that more important."

At the meeting, the authority also approved a measure overhauling the structure of the Highland 75 Owners Association to make it more of a "formal organization."

"The bylaws said what they needed to do [so] that lessees and sublessees, these companies in the park by way of the bond structure the Second JDA has with the companies on paper, now they can really participate in the owners association and formally be a part of that process," Lemmon said.

The association, she added, is responsible for certain common-area maintenance, as well as paying the costs of some utilities, such as the water for sprinkler systems and the electricity used for streetlights and entrance lighting.