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City Council Talks Resume for $1.3 Billion Sweetwater Development for Decatur, Alabama;
Initial Plans Include a Hotel, Restaurants and Retail Space

By Adam Smith, The News Courier, Athens, Ala.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 09, 2011--Three years after the $1.3 billion Sweetwater development was declared "on hold," talks have resumed on the project that could benefit the city of Decatur and Limestone County.

Decatur City Council member Gary Hammon confirmed a report Friday that city officials had continued negotiations on the project, initially planned to include a Bass Pro Shops, a hotel, restaurants and other retail space.

The News Courier reported Thursday that Limestone County Commissioners Gerald Barksdale, Bill Latimer and Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee met last Thursday with Decatur officials. All three said they had signed confidentiality agreements with county attorney Mike Cole and could say nothing more about the nature of the meetings.

Hammon, however, said he had not been in any meetings with Limestone County officials and "all information involving their participation is second-hand."

Barksdale said he and other commissioners were initially scheduled to meet with Cole Friday morning, but Barksdale was attending a conference in Anniston. Still mum about the county's involvement with Decatur officials, he simply said "discussions are still ongoing."

However, when asked about the importance of getting the Sweetwater development off the ground, he said such a project could have a tremendous positive impact on Limestone County residents, including the addition of jobs.

"Any development would be a positive for the county, provided it's an environmentally clean project," he said. "It would be a positive, regardless of which area of the city limits it's in or if it's in the county."

The Sweetwater development was first announced in March 2008, and has since gone through a period of action and inaction.

The initial plan for the development -- to be located on about 535 acres at interstates 65 and 565 -- was to include a 144,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shop. The entire development was slated to be five times the size of the Bridge Street Town Centre in Huntsville.

Decatur had initially agreed to abate $36 million in sales taxes to aid in the development's construction, while a second agreement between the Decatur City Council and developer Genesis U.S.A. had the city paying $14 million for infrastructure expenses.

The plan for Phase 1 was to include the construction of a 250-room hotel and 60-square-foot conference center. Also included in the first phase-- set to cover 125 acres -- was a proposed 225,000 to 300,000 square feet of retail stores and restaurants.

In spring 2008, Genesis U.S.A. attorney Barney Lovelace said he expected the project to take six to 10 years to complete. However, by May of that year, hotel developer John Q. Hammons announced he was backing out of the deal because he preferred to be on the east side of the interstate, and the whole project was deemed to be "on hold."

In 2010, Decatur Mayor Don Stanford reportedly said there was a chance the project could still be completed, but the developer was waiting for the economy to turn.


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Copyright (c) 2011, The News Courier, Athens, Ala.

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