Property sold by International Paper prime for developers, forester says

Published 8:10 am Wednesday, August 4, 2010

FRANKLIN—A timber industry expert believes the 163,000 acres that International Paper Co. plans to sell could be coveted by developers, and that the company held onto the land for years to get a premium price.

IP announced two weeks ago that it had reached an agreement to sell the land, which includes 10,500 acres in Virginia, to Rock Creek Capital of Jacksonville, Fla., for $200 million.

Terry Godwin, a forestry consultant with GFER Forestry Consultants in Franklin, said the majority of the acreage in Virginia — including 5,500 acres in Suffolk, 3,100 in Isle of Wight County and 1,300 in Southampton County — is dedicated to pine production.

“I suspect that is the case with the majority of the 163,000 acres,” Godwin said Thursday. “But some of it could be swamp and hardwood plantations.”

Godwin said IP sold the majority of its land to timberland investment management organizations, which the timber industry refers to as TIMOs, in 2006.

“They sold millions of acres to several different companies,” Godwin said. “But they retained some properties that had a development potential. That’s what these properties in Isle of Wight, Suffolk and Southampton are; IP retained them because they thought they could get a higher price than they could by selling in those larger packages (in 2006).”

Godwin said his firm hasn’t performed an analysis of the acreage involved in the IP-Rock Creek proposal, but believes most of the land would be classified as “Higher and Better Use” tracts, or HBUs.

Asked if he thought Rock Creek would eventually sell the land to developers, Godwin said, “I suspect based on their location that’s what their plan is.”

“They could manage the timber on (the parcels) until they sell them,” he added. “Some of the properties may have timber on them, and that timber can be managed and sold and (the land) reforested. They could get intermediate income with a timber harvest, and they would be getting a 4- to 6-percent growth rate on their investment just in timber volume each year until they sell, if they decide to do that.”

Rock Creek officials declined to comment on its plans.

Under the terms of the sale, IP is to receive a minimum of $160 million at closing, and the rest of the balance, plus interest, within three years. IP also said it would receive 20 percent of Rock Creek’s net profits after unspecified financial returns. A closing date for the sale was not announced.