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John Hageman, Forum News Service, Published November 01 2013

Grand Forks County picks UAS park developer

GRAND FORKS – Grand Forks County commissioners Wednesday chose a private firm to lead the development of a proposed tech park at Grand Forks Air Force Base to develop unmanned aircraft systems.

FDSL, a joint venture between FD Stonewater and Lynxs Group, will recruit tenants and develop the Grand Sky tech park.

The Air Force announced last month that it intends to sign a 50-year lease with the county, but for that to happen, the county must have a developer lined up, said County Commissioner John Schmisek.

“I think the thing that stood out to us for FDSL was they seemed to have a stronger financial ability to do this,” he said, adding that eliminating financial risk for the county factored into their decision. “This is potentially a $260 million to $300 million project that has to be funded with private funds through the developer.”

The other developer that submitted a proposal to the county is Grand Sky Development Co., owned by Texas-based Infinity Development Partners. Infinity has been working with the county on the Air Force lease proposal, Schmisek said.

When the county gets the lease approved, FDSL will sublease from the county, and will be responsible for lease payments to the Air Force, he said. One of the next steps in the process is to sign a developer’s agreement with the firm, he said.

“We would hope we can do it as quickly as possible,” he said. “We are still hopefully shooting for a December timeline with the Air Force. That means we have to have these other things done before that.”

FD Stonewater is a firm based in Washington, D.C., that specializes in “developing, financing, owning and operating public entity-related lease build-to-suit projects,” according to a news release. Lynxs is a Texas-based real estate developer that works primarily in the air transportation sector, according to its website.

The two firms have worked together in the past. Last week, they announced that they helped secure a lease for a U.S. Coast Guard facility at Corpus Christi (Texas) International Airport.

The Grand Sky project, which local officials hope will be home to unmanned aircraft businesses and researchers, is part of the state’s push to become an industry hub. North Dakota is one of 24 states that applied to be a test site to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace.