Washington City hopes to draw $1 billion ‘mega site’ investment with 800-acre annexation

The area marked in green shows the proposed properties to be annexed into Washington City. The City Council voted to begin the process of annexation during its Jan. 23, 2019, meeting. | Composite photo, courtesy of Google Maps and Washington City, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Last month Washington City annexed over 800 acres near the St. George Regional Airport with plans of creating a potential “mega site.”

According to the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, “mega sites are large-acreage land sites that have been extensively researched and pre-qualified to house large corporate relocation or expansion projects of 1,000-plus jobs and $1 billion in capital investment.”

Matt Loo, Washington City economic development director, told the Washington City Council during its April 24 meeting that he sees the 840-acre parcel becoming something similar to St. George’s Fort Pierce Industrial Park. Other possibilities are being considered as well that would bring a different or new type of industry to the area, he said.

Read more: Washington City begins process of annexing 800 acres near St. George airport

“Right now we’re thinking about doing something with automotive testing,” Loo said, adding that this could include the building of an automotive test track that could also be used by local police agencies for training.

The Washington City Council, Washington City, Utah, Aug. 7, 2018 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Following the closure of the former St. George Municipal Airport, the St. George Police Department was able to use the old airport runways for training related to vehicle pursuit and maneuvers. This came to an end in January 2016 when construction started on Dixie Technical College.

The city’s police department and others across Washington County now have to travel to a facility in Salt Lake City for their vehicle training, Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson said.

While speaking to St. George News earlier this year, Loo mentioned the track possibly being used to test self-driving vehicles.

Other possibilities for the site include manufacturing and aviation-related industry.

“We’re playing with a lot of concepts,” Loo said.

Once underway, Neilson said the proposed site would not just benefit Washington City but also the county overall due to its potential for wide-reaching economic impact.

While the whole concept of a potential mega site is still in the very early stages, both Loo and Neilson said the city was working with EDCUtah to promote the site as they move forward.

“It’s something they will help us market,” Loo said.

EDCUtah certified the state’s first mega site in Elberta in 2016, where it is being marketed toward companies for the purpose of corporate expansion.

According to the EDCUtah website, “Successful Mega Site Programs have been implemented in states throughout the southeastern United States and have led to the recruitment of large operations such as the $1 billion BMW assembly plant in Greer, South Carolina and the $1.6 billion Toyota plant in Huntsville, Alabama.”

Prior to the City Council approving the annexation of the 840 acres next to the airport, council member Jeff Turek noted the city had been working to bring that land into the city for over a decade and was pleased to see those efforts pay off that night.

Read more: Washington City annexes Long Valley area; master development planned

The annexation had been the subject of a public hearing during the April 24 meeting, but no one spoke for or against it. As well, Washington City recorder Danice Bulloch noted that no one had sent objections to the city or the county over the pending annexation.

The 840-acre annexation zone is composed of both private and city-owned properties. Loo said that around 400-plus acres within the annexation is owned by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, more commonly known as SITLA.

SITLA’s purpose is to use the public lands for the benefit of Utah’s public schools, which can translate to selling land, leasing for various uses or whatever use or activity is deemed the most beneficial. SITLA routinely works with municipalities and counties in which it holds own land.

Under state law, a group that owns over a third of the area proposed for annexation may submit an application for a larger area.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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