Jan. 13--What started as a request for a proposal issued last summer for a Toyota-Mazda project culminated this week when the automakers announced their manufacturing plant would be built in Huntsville-annexed Limestone County.
The RFP issued by Toyota-Mazda, with the assistance of Jones Lang LaSalle, was "invitation only," said Shane Davis, the city of Huntsville's urban development director. More than 100 sites in more than 25 states were considered for the project, according to Davis' presentation to the Huntsville City Council on Thursday.
The list reportedly was narrowed to 11 states, then to two: Alabama and North Carolina.
The initial RFP response included the "shovel-ready" 1,200-acre Tennessee Valley Authority-certified megasite in Huntsville-annexed Limestone County, Davis said, but the proposal eventually grew to 2,400 acres. The site runs from Old Highway 20 on the southern boundary to a Tennessee Valley Authority substation north of Powell Road.
"It kept evolving during the site selection process," Davis said Thursday during a tour of the site. "It's a very fluid process."
Davis' presentation gave a list of site considerations: a development-ready site, transportation logistics, reliable utilities, educated and available workforce, pro-business environment and quality of life.
"Being able to respond quickly was a challenge," said Davis, who worked through Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays on the deal, "but I think it was a difference in winning and losing."
The two automakers plan to invest $1.6 billion in the facility that will employ about 4,000 workers and have the capacity to build 300,000 vehicles a year. Early last year, they announced they would create a joint-venture entity to build a new U.S. auto assembly plant to produce the Toyota Corolla and a new Mazda crossover vehicle.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said this week that the anticipated return on investment for the community is $5.6 billion over the next 20 years.
"If ever there was a slam-dunk deal, this is a great one," Battle said.
"We can't invest any wiser" to achieve that kind of return, Davis said.
The Huntsville City Council on Thursday night approved a development agreement with local direct and nondirect incentives of $320 million, in addition to the state's $380 million incentive package with property tax abatements and jobs and investment credit.
Two of the nondirect projects on the local incentives list -- completing the five-lane Greenbrier Parkway to Interstate 65 and five-laning Old Highway 20 from Greenbrier Parkway to County Line Road -- were already part of Huntsville's capital improvements plan.
"We'll accelerate those schedules a little bit," Davis said.
Battle called the facility "a generational project" that will provide benefits residents across north Alabama.
Following the announcement in Montgomery, officials mentioned the loss of a Volkswagen plant in 2008 to a megasite near Chattanooga.
That same year, the city of Huntsville commissioned a firm to create a master plan for thousands of acres of the Huntsville-annexed land in Limestone County, and started investing in roads, sewer and utilities there. In June 2016, TVA certified 1,242 acres there as a megasite.
"We did things that would make the site a success," Battle said. So, when the RFP arrived in August, "we were ready to go."
"We lost Volkswagen, (but) that was the seed that made today possible," Limestone County Commission Chairman Mark Yarbrough said.
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