Commissioners approve airport agreement after heated discussion
By Josh Bergeron
With a few clarifications, the Rowan County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a lease with Statesville-based Strategic Moves LLC for a hangar and office building at the county’s airport as part of a new corporate headquarters.
The lease lasts 20 years and can be renewed for two, five-year terms by Strategic Moves. The lease rate is $6,900 per month during the initial five-year period, and will be adjusted 2 percent annually every five years afterward.
Strategic Moves is a private, on-demand charter company with planes based in multiple countries. In April, the company announced its intent to move its headquarters from Statesville to the Rowan County Airport. Once the move is complete, Strategic Moves would be the largest company at the airport. The company is projected to bring 15 to 17 jobs.
The company’s lease at the Rowan County Airport came after an hour of, at times, heated discussion. The vote, however, was unanimous.
A primary point of contention during Tuesday’s called commissioners meeting included a clause that may have allowed Strategic Moves to not use a planned office building. Commissioner Craig Pierce spotted a clause in the contract stating: “If lessee elects to not move into the office space, lessor is relieved of the obligation to provide temporary office space to lessee.”
With the addition of three words — permanent twice and temporary once — commissioners prevented the possibility that a planned 4,200 square foot office space wouldn’t be used.
With hefty amounts of money — Pierce estimated the total at $2 million — already spent, and more planned, for Strategic Moves’ new corporate headquarters, Pierce said it would be unfair to allow the company out of an obligation to use the office space.
“I don’t want anything in here that gives him the option not to take that office space,” Pierce said. “I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request.”
The issue seemed to only require wording clarification.
Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds said “office space” in the lease referred to a mobile unit the county would be willing to provide if the permanent facility wasn’t ready in time for Strategic Moves. For tax purposes, Edds said the goal is to get as many aircraft as possible to the Rowan County Airport by Jan 1. The proposed office space might not be ready by Jan. 1. As a result, Edds said, the county could provide some type of mobile office space or Steve Setzer, Strategic Moves’ president, may decide to commute from Statesville to Salisbury for a month.
Although it was a brief comment, Pierce took issue with the haste of the contract’s delivery to the county commissioners. Instead, Pierce said Rowan County’s Airport Board should have vetted Strategic Moves’ lease contract.
“I don’t think that’s prudent for the citizens of Rowan County, to have this type of investment sitting out there, and we’re not able to have current market value for that space,” Pierce said, referencing the 2 percent increases every five years.
Pierce questioned whether Setzer, with Strategic Moves’ lease at the Rowan County Airport, was trying to lock in a lease rate and later sell the company.
“Mr. Setzer is trying to use the assets of the county to his advantage,” Pierce said. “The assets of the county are supposed to be to the advantage of the citizens. I think we should be able to have some type of cost-of-living adjustment or economic adjustment every five years that’s more than two percent.”
Two percent, Pierce said, would be less than a market-value increase in many years.
Vice Chairman Jim Greene countered by mentioning future tax income as a result of airplanes permanently moving to Rowan. The county would receive significantly more money through tax revenue on planes than a lease rate, regardless of price.
“It seems to be a late hour to change what we have already offered to Strategic Moves,” Greene said.
Pierce said his issues with the lease stemmed from the lease’s speed in moving to commissioners for approval.
“This all falls down to the fact that we didn’t send it to the Airport Advisory Board to start out with,” Pierce said.
Commissioner Mike Caskey agreed with Pierce.
In other business from Tuesday’s meeting:
• Commissioners also approved a $60,000 contract for Salisbury-based architecture firm Ramsay Burgin Smith to oversee work on a new office building for Strategic Moves.
• Commissioners approved a relocation assistance agreement for Strategic Moves.
The agreement includes a discount on fuel based on certain, pre-determined thresholds. The discount, however, requires Strategic Moves to maintain a minimum property value of $11.5 million during the first five years and a minimum value of $15 million starting in the sixth year.
It also includes a $50,000 grant to make office and hangar improvements.
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.
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