Huntsville had to find more land in order to secure $1.6 billion Toyota Mazda auto plant deal

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Speculation around the Toyota Mazda recruitment efforts focused on the 1,200 acre TVA megasite in Huntsville annexed Limestone County.

But the negotiations moved quickly and Alabama officials realized they needed to buy more land.

During a tour of the Huntsville/Limestone County home for the new plant Thursday, officials described the process of securing the $1.6 billion plant and the prospect of 4,000 workers making vehicles for Toyota and Mazda.

Shane Davis, Huntsville’s director of urban planning, who led the dealmaking effort for Huntsville, said they were in basically uncharted territory.

“This has never happened on U.S. soil,” Davis said. “You’re talking two (original equipment makers) producing two vehicles also having a (joint venture) on site.”

Because it was a new landscape for both the companies and recruiters, the dealmaking process was fluid.

“It kept changing,” Davis said. “We started with a shovel-ready TVA megasite, about 1,300 acres. You know, we got 30 days into it and the company said, 'We think we need another 300 acres', we worked with landowners and got that, and a couple weeks later, 'I need another 400 acres', and it just kept evolving.”

Limestone County Commission Chairman Mark Yarbrough said while the shifting landscape seemed to cause problems for other state delegations, it actually helped Alabama close the deal.

“And it’s getting bigger and where that was a detriment to everybody else,” Yarbrough said. “For the team that we had here, that was a positive, because we were prepared for that.”

Officials said Thursday the deal sets the carmakers up for 2021 and well beyond.

“I think the important thing is, there’s a site here in Huntsville, Alabama and Limestone County that will have an additional 1,000 acres for a long-term expansion,” Davis said. “So this is a long-term play for the company, they’ve said that from day one. The decision they made yesterday is a 50-60-70 year decision by the company.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle has called it a generational deal.

“It gives us jobs, for not just 10 years from now, 20 years from now, this plant will be going 50 years from now,” Battle said. “A time when a lot of us have gone somewhere else, our children, our children’s children will be enjoying the benefits that come off of this.”

Huntsville officials said Thursday that annexation planning going back to 2008, and the relationships they developed with property owners back then, allowed them to move quickly to secure more land for the Toyota Mazda deal.

The plant is scheduled to open in 2021.