Megasite could be key to region's economic future

City council approved funding for the first part of Round Rock's Quiet Zone Project.

City council approved funding for the first part of Round Rock's Quiet Zone Project.

A driving force behind Huttos future may be the result of the biggest industrial development project that never occurred in the city.

Hutto officials are setting the stage for dramatic growth in the next decade. They are rebuilding the co-op, a historic centerpiece of the city, to attract development and are set to start construction on a $20.5 million wastewater treatment plant and force main.

But perhaps the largest impact on Hutto's economy will come from city leaders efforts to bring a large industrial enterprise, or several small ones, to the so-called megasite between Hutto and Taylor the same megasite on which local officials in 2014 tried in vain to have electric carmaker Tesla build a $5 billion lithium ion battery factory.

After months of closed-door negotiations, in September Tesla chose to locate its plant near Reno, Nevada. But in being snubbed, Hutto earned its place in a story of national prominence and got a spotlight shined on the attributes that made it a finalist to land Teslas gigafactory: railroad frontage, plentiful water and proximity to a large educated workforce, among other factors.

Hutto officials, including Economic Development Corp. President Joey Grisham, are using the publicity to bring an industrial enterprise, or a group of them, to the 1,248-acre megasite.

Landing a major business, he said, could alter Huttos future just as the relocation of Dell Inc.s headquarters changed Round Rock.

"If you can get a $100 million or $150 million company on the tax rolls, think about how many houses you have to build to get to $150 million," Grisham said. "The biggest benefit is jobs and then, of course, the tax base. That is what is needed in Hutto. That is our void."

Megasite for the region

Landing a major industrial business on the land between Hutto and Taylor at the intersection of Hwy. 79 and FM 3349 would be a boon for more than just the two cities, Williamson County Commissioner Ron Morrison said.

"Something really big would impact the whole region. It would not be uncommon for people 40 or 50 miles away to commute into it, to a really large facility," Morrison said. "It would impact Round Rock; it would impact all the communities probably within a 10-, 15-, 20-mile radius."

Grisham said Hutto's and Taylor's EDCs have an option to buy the megasite through mid-2015. To make it easier to develop and market, the EDCs are looking for investors to buy the properties.

"Essentially [the option] is just a legal document that says the EDCs or community has the right to purchase the property. And [the land] has an established purchase price," Grisham said.

The site could be used for one large industrial user. Grisham said it could also be divided and made into an industrial park. Hutto Mayor Debbie Holland said she would like to see a clean and green business at the site.

Several entities including Hutto ISD, Williamson County and the state, offered Tesla incentives to build at the site.

Floyd Akers, Pflugerville Community Development Corp. executive director, said his office offered its assistance in the battle to win Teslas 5-million-square-foot facility and the ancillary jobs that would come with it.

"Landing an operation like Tesla with 6,000 employees, there would have been all kinds of spinoffs and suppliers," Akers said.

Holland said City Council and the EDC are beginning to discuss how to craft incentive packages for potential megasite users. The incentives, she said, would be different depending on the business, its size, worker salaries and the value of its products.

"We recognize that we dont want to incentivize everything. We want to be smart about what we incentivize," Holland said.

Although the possibilities for the megasite remain open, Hutto officials are also moving forward with projects within the city.

New projects

Redevelopment of a Hutto icon, the co-op site in downtown, begins in January with the reconstruction of its south gin building.

The city budgeted $754,000 in fiscal year 201415 for the renovations. The structure will become an open-air event center.

The rickety building will be reinforced, and new perforated metal walls will make the building shine by day and glow at night, said Michael Antenora, founder of Antenora Architects LLP.

Antenora has worked on the gin building redesign and co-op master plan. He said the new gin building would retain its historical look and general shape.

"It's a very recognizable building and emblematic of Hutto's past," Antenora said.

The co-op revamp is intended to catalyze private retail and housing development on the city-owned, 20-acre property, Holland said.

Less eye-catching than the gin building project but critical to growth will be the city's new wastewater treatment plant.

Assistant City Manager Micah Grau said the existing treatment plant is nearing full capacity.

The new plant will double the citys capacity to 4 million gallons per day, enough volume for about 10 more years, Grau said.

The new plant will also be expandable, and city leaders have considered enabling it to produce reclaimed water for the megasite in the future, Grau said.

Reclaimed water is wastewater treated to a lower standard than drinking water. It is cheaper than potable water, and large users of water can save money by using it.

"[Reclaimed water] is on our radar," Grau said.

The wastewater treatment plant construction will be funded with a low interest loan from the Texas Water Development Board, which should save the city $9 million, Holland said

But while the city spends money on the treatment plant and gin building, bonds are currently available that have not been sold to fund needed projects, Holland said. The city has held back on selling the bonds because it would put too much pressure on taxpayers. Additional industrial and commercial businesses would provide a much-needed tax boost, she said.

"We are right on the edge of that critical mass number. We thought it was [a population of] 20,000, but apparently it is more like 25,000 when everything starts coming in our direction."


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