Alabama jobs hang in the balance in dispute over former military facility
Several dozen high-paying jobs hang in the balance as a defense contractor and local economic development authority square off over the future of an aging military base in northeast Alabama.
In 2009, then-Alabama Governor Bob Riley authorized the creation of local “development authorities for the purpose of developing real and personal property of closed military installations” around the state. Among those installations was Fort McClellan, a famed, century-old military facility that was shuttered in 1999.
Since that time, the local area has struggled to find private sector suitors to fill parts of the property, including a large, concrete barracks facility known locally as the Starship. But in recent years, Xtreme Concepts, a defense contractor, leased the property with an option to buy. The property houses an Xtreme subsidiary called iK9 that trains dogs for military and law enforcement entities, including U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
“We worked out a deal that allowed us to lease the property, make $1.4 million in improvements to the facilities and ultimately purchase it over time,” Xtreme CEO Landon Ash explained in a recent Anniston Star op-ed. He called it “a win for the community” because, prior to Xtreme’s arrival, taxpayers were facing the likelihood of having to spend $3 million to tear down the buildings.
But in recent months, as Xtreme moved to purchase the property a stalemate emerged between the company and the McClellan Development Authority (MDA), ultimately resulting in the MDA rejecting Xtreme’s purchase agreement.
“As we moved to purchase the Starships property in accordance with our agreement with the MDA, communication broke down and unfortunately spilled over into public meetings and news stories,” Ash wrote in his op-ed, which included a pitch for the two sides to put their differences aside and preserve the roughly three dozen jobs currently provided at the once-dormant facility.
“It is my desire to do whatever I can to protect these hardworking Alabamians, many of whom are veterans,” Ash wrote.
But to this point the MDA has held the line. In March, the MDA agreed to give away 900 acres of the former Army base to be turned into recreational horse trails, but there does not appear to be any companies interested in succeeding Xtreme Concepts to create additional jobs if they are forced out.
Late last week, the editorial board of the local paper urged the two sides to come together and patch up their differences.
But for now the two sides remain embroiled in a legal dispute with uncertainty continuing to surround roughly three-dozen jobs.
“I am optimistic that we can put our differences behind us, come together and do what is best for the community we all love by approving our purchase agreement,” Ash wrote.
The MDA is set to meet Thursday for another round of conversations.
The group’s executive director did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.