ATHENS — A $750,000 grant from a federal–state partnership will help Athens spur development around the Interstate 65/Huntsville-Brownsferry Road interchange and generate future sales tax revenue, the city's mayor said.
The grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to the city is the latest source of funding to come through for sewer expansion to serve the interchange area, which will include a planned Buc-ee’s travel center and other anticipated retail development.
A $500,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs was approved earlier this year to help pay for the sewer expansion project, estimated to cost about $5.5 million. Buc-ee's will provide $3.5 million for the project but will be reimbursed from what it collects in city sales and fuel taxes. The remaining $750,000 will come from a city bond issue.
“Buc-ee’s and this sewer expansion are opening up for us the opportunity to pursue more retail development at the interchange to ensure we add to and protect our sales tax base,” said Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks. He said about 40% of the city’s revenue comes from sales taxes.
The city refinanced a 2010 bond last year to take advantage of lower interest rates and was able to “capture” $10 million to put toward critical infrastructure needs, including the sewer expansion.
Marks said he wants to get the sewer projects bid “as soon as we can.”
“We’ve got a lot more (sewer) needs, but these are our priorities,” Marks said. “That’s why we’re setting money aside” for them. The Athens City Council last month authorized more than $11 million in sewer projects.
The 53,000-square-foot Buc-ee’s Athens project is planned for the southeast corner of the I-65/Huntsville-Brownsferry Road interchange.
“We are still performing due diligence on the location and hopefully this summer will be able to begin construction,” said Jeff Nadalo, general counsel for Buc-ee's Ltd. “Ideally we would open in the summer of 2022.”
In announcing the grant, the ARC said that growth along I-65 continues as the state experiences extensive investment from the automotive industry, noting the construction nearby of the $2.3 billion Mazda Toyota automotive plant.
“Development of the interchange and construction of the travel center cannot be supported without the installation of the new sewer infrastructure,” according to the ARC. Access to the new sewer will “catalyze future economic growth and development” for Athens.
Marks said ADECA Director Ken Boswell and state Sen. Arthur Orr helped set up a meeting in Athens so state and ARC officials could observe the city’s growth and the opportunity the project will provide for Athens and its sales tax revenue.