Fayette Rail Yard Expected to Spark Business Activity

By Eric Smith

Don Culbreath has about 200 acres for sale in Chickasaw Trails Industrial Park, a 2,600-acre site in Marshall County, Miss., but so far no one has shown any interest in buying the land.

“My phone isn’t ringing; it hasn’t rang all year,” said Culbreath, who lives in Germantown. “I haven’t got a single prospect right now and my land is ready to sell.”

With the news last week that Norfolk Southern Corp. will build a $129 million, 570-acre intermodal terminal across the Tennessee state line in Fayette County to the north, Culbreath hopes that will change.

He’s hopeful because Chickasaw Trails is bounded by U.S. 72, the highway that runs east out of Collierville through North Mississippi. An access road from the Norfolk Southern yard – where containers of cargo will be transferred between trucks and trains – is slated to connect with 72, bringing thousands of trucks past the park and perhaps bringing a windfall to area real estate.

Specifically, the rail yard, set to open in 2012, might benefit Chickasaw Trails much the same way that FedEx helps real estate in the airport area as businesses look to set up shop close to the company’s hub.

“I hope it will really help us,” Culbreath said of the intermodal yard. “Marshall County is real excited about it, and the landowners around me are real excited about it. We feel like it’s going to help some.

“I don’t know how much, for sure, I guess a lot of it depends on the activity it’s going to create there.”

Wait and see

As a consultant for the Marshall County Industrial Development Authority, Del Stover is firmly in Culbreath’s camp about Chickasaw Trails. Not only is the park close to the Norfolk Southern site, but it is zoned industrial with a full infrastructure of utilities. Also, it will have direct access to what will soon be Interstates 269 and 22.

Stover envisions the park drawing industrial or light industrial users, whether it’s to build a warehouse or showroom or manufacturing plant. Citing the recently built 700,000-square-foot Exel distribution center in Chickasaw Trails as an example of how the park already has attracted such users, Stover said the rail facility can spark additional ancillary activity.

“It ought to generate some distribution-type projects and other facilities that support the intermodal yard,” Stover said.

But Jim Mercer, senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis Memphis, is leery of saying industrial real estate will immediately benefit from the Norfolk Southern news because of one factor – the economy.

“It would have been a different answer 18 months ago or 24 months ago than it is today,” Mercer said. “Any spec developer out there now, it’s so difficult for them to get projects approved and financed, so for a developer to go out and buy a bunch of acreage right now, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for them to do.”

He did say, however, that once the financial climate improves, places like Chickasaw Trails stand to benefit. He also projects that the asking prices likely will increase, although what land actually sells for might fall short of that mark.

“There’s going to be a need for northern Mississippi industrial sites,” Mercer said. “So, I think Chickasaw Trails and Marshall County … will grow industrially.

“Clearly it’s a huge bonanza for Fayette County, Shelby County and Marshall County.”

A place at the table

In light of the coming yard, Culbreath said he will ramp up the marketing of his land, offering to sell it in tracts from two to 200 acres for a variety of users. When the economy picks up, he even plans on building a couple of speculative buildings from 10,000 square feet and up.

Culbreath also has built a road through the middle of his land, which ultimately will continue north and meet 72 where it intersects with Tenn. 196, which should help connect users on his property with points everywhere.

“I think it’s going to help everybody,” Culbreath said.

Plenty of others remain hopeful the yard will aid real estate development, from Chickasaw Trails north to the Piperton business park, and elsewhere in Fayette County and nearby Memphis.

“When we get this intermodal yard completed, it’s going to attract, I believe, other business and other commercial facilities to the area – light commercial and light industrial,” said state Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville. “During this time, when we’ve been in this economic downturn, this sort of stalemate, it’s going to bring jobs to the area, naturally. It’s kind of like lighting a fire to dried grass. It’s going to catch everything else on fire around it. That is a very good thing.”