Why did Huntsville City Council keep Facebook deal secret?

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Local business, city and state leaders gathered in downtown Huntsville Thursday afternoon to announce that Facebook is coming to the Rocket City.

The company is building a 750,000 square foot data center in north Huntsville. Governor Kay Ivey said she expected the data center to bring 100 jobs to the area.

In a news release, Facebook called Huntsville a growing tech hub and was a natural fit.

"This is one of the most innovative companies in the world," said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. "We're proud to have you in one of the world's most innovative cities. Huntsville is a city that constantly redefines what is possible."

The Huntsville City Council voted to approve the development agreement with Facebook last month. The council also voted to hand out $6.6 million in non-direct incentives to the company behind the project.

At that time the company was being referred to as "Starbelt." The actual company behind the $750 million data center wasn't revealed until Thursday.

Mayor Battle says Facebook asked the city to wait to let the social media giant make the announcement on its own terms. That included keeping quiet until they were ready to make the deal public.

He says this isn't the first time the city has made this kind of agreement with a company.

"To my colleagues on the city council, thank you for being team players. And I think they are all here today, but thank you for being team players, and getting this agreement through, and also being quiet about the agreement as we move through it," said Mayor Battle.

Some of the audience members laughed as he thanked the council for keeping quiet. "The company itself asked for us to withhold the name until they could make the announcement and we'll work on their terms."

Last month they approved $6.6 million in non-direct incentives for the company to build a $750 million data center at the North Huntsville Industrial Park.

WHNT News 19 asked Battle why the council approved spending taxpayer funds without letting citizens know who was actually on the receiving end of the money.

"The only thing that was not let loose was the name. As long as we could tell you what the investment was in the community, what our return on that investment was, then we're doing what we need to do with the taxpayer."

Battle says this isn't the first time the city has signed redacted agreements with private companies.  "There are several times that we have to use redacted agreements in our development agreements. There are trade secret agreements that we make, we did with Toyota Mazda. We've done it with Facebook. We've done it before with other companies."

And with city officials hoping for more large job projects, it might not be the last time they keep where your money is going under wraps while they approve it.

Facebook is ready to start building, but an actual groundbreaking date has yet to be determined.