Sarpy County Board to look at Project Oasis funds - Omaha.com
Published Monday, September 9, 2013 at 1:30 am / Updated at 10:37 pm
Springfield data center
Sarpy County Board to look at Project Oasis funds
Sarpy County budget
What: Sarpy County 2014 budget hearing

When: 3 p.m. Tuesday

Where: County Administration Building, 1210 Golden Gate Dr. in Papillion

Sarpy County officials expect to have a development agreement for a new data center near Springfield ready when the County Board meets Sept. 17.

The board meets Tuesday to consider the 2014 budget, meaning it could approve infrastructure spending for the $200 million data center, code-named Project Oasis, before the agreement is actually in hand.

The data center would sit on the southwest corner of 144th Street and Schram Road. The 140-acre parcel was rezoned to light industrial last month, and the Sarpy County Economic Development Corp., which is brokering the deal, has an option on the land.

The budget includes a pass-through account to hold a $750,000 state infrastructure grant for the project, as well as spending on roads and sewers for the site. The county's share of the infrastructure costs — extending a mile and a half of sewer line and paving Schram Road from 144th to 150th Streets — would be about $1.4 million.

Even if the deal fell through, board Chairman Jim Warren said, appropriating the money doesn't mean it has to be spent.

“The gun's loaded, but there's still no determination as to whether you pull the trigger,” he said.

As is typical with large economic development projects, the name of the company behind the project has been a closely held secret. Planning documents describe it only as a “Fortune 200” company.

County Administrator Mark Wayne, who is board treasurer for the Sarpy County Economic Development Corp., signed the nondisclosure agreement for the county. But only the handful of people who are working on the county's development agreement are in the loop.

Except for the company's identity, Wayne said the board has been fully briefed on the project. Board member Tom Richards of Bellevue — who manages government and community relations for the Omaha Public Power District, which is building a substation next to the site — is one of the few county officials who knows the company's identity.

Warren, Don Kelly of Papillion and Jim Thompson of Springfield — who represents the district that would hold the data center — do not. Brenda Carlisle of La Vista didn't return messages for comment.

Warren and Thompson said they didn't want or need to know the company's name. They said it's enough to know a major company is proposing to bring jobs and tax revenue to the county.

But Kelly, who also is on the Sarpy County Economic Development Corp. board, said he'd like to have had more information on the project sooner.

“I'm sure there are good reasons” for the secrecy, he said. “Companies are really nervous about letting out business intelligence. But the board has to be involved from initiation rather than at the tail end.”

As the project grew to fruition, officials warned that the deal would fall through if the name leaked. The Sarpy County Attorney's Office declined to provide The World-Herald with some public officials' emails and correspondence related to the project, arguing that the company's name is a trade secret.

Such secrecy is common on these kinds of deals, said Karla Ewert, spokeswoman for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

Companies that request the chamber's help in maintaining anonymity do so for a variety of reasons, Ewert said. Perhaps they're bidding on land in other cities — Altoona, Iowa, has been mentioned as a possible competitor in this deal — or they have special security needs, or they're a publicly traded company, so announcing their intentions before an agreement is in place could move the stock price.

“Whatever it is, we honor that,” she said. “It's a trust issue. They know they can come to the chamber on their project.”

Contact the writer: Cody Winchester

cody.winchester@owh.com    |   402-444-1216    |  

Cody Winchester is a metro-area watchdog reporter. He covers Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

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