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  • By Allen Turner

Property changes hands for Fair Bluff big cat sanctuary

The former automobile dealership property in Fair Bluff that will be transformed into a wildlife sanctuary for big cats has officially changed hands and work is expected to begin soon on the site.

A deed giving Shizzy’s Wildcat Rescue ownership of the former Fair Bluff Motors property was recorded earlier this month to give the nonprofit title to 56 acres. The land was donated by Capital Investments, whose principals are Willard Small, Carl Meares Jr. and David Small.

Shazir “Shizzy” Haque said that one of his longtime supporters, Alisha Brazeau, flew in from Canada for the closing of the real estate transaction. “Our goal is to get to opening day within two years,” Haque said, calling the projected timeframe very realistic.

Haque had high praise for Columbus County Economic Developer Gary Lanier, as well as for Rick Edwards and Les High of the Columbus Jobs Foundation for helping navigate the nonprofit through zoning and ordinance changes in Fair Bluff that had to occur before plans could start being put into action.

He said that the rescue intends to use local companies whenever possible to help stimulate economic growth.

The facility, which will employ 7-10 workers, including two veterinarians, and utilize dozens of volunteers, will house big cats, such as lions, tigers and bears, as well as smaller species of wild cats and some birds.

The sanctuary cleared its last zoning hurdle in Fair Bluff in July after the town’s planning board approved the site plan.

Construction will be in phases, each of which will require additional approval from the planning board. Phase 1 will include completion of separate habitats for big cats and smaller cats, completion of a food preparation area and development of parking and animal loading/unloading areas. Phase 2 will include additional big and lesser cat areas and the bird aviary along with a walking path.

The big cat habitats will be surrounded by 16’ high fences, while the habitats for smaller cats will be 10’ high. The bird aviary, which will include a dome-shaped roof, will feature a 15’ fence. In addition, the perimeter of the entire property will be surrounded a 10’ fence. Video cameras and drones will provide surveillance to protect both the community and the animals. The site will have two electrical generators in the event of power failures.

Ever since the concept of the sanctuary first rose, officials of the Fair Bluff government, the Columbus County Economic Development office and the Columbus Jobs Foundation have been hopeful it will be will be a launching point in revitalizing the town after devastation nearly two years ago from flooding associated with Hurricane Matthew.

“If we get people to come here, then they will want to spend money on other things as well,” Haque told the planning board in July.

Safety will be a major priority in both the development and operation of the facility, Haque said. He has worked with two other similar facilities in his planning, neither of which has had an animal escape. He modeled his plans after their sites. He pledged to maintain close communications with the Fair Bluff Police Department and other public safety officials when the facility opens.

In another development related to the property transfer, Fair Bluff Auto relocated last week from the former Ford dealership property that will house the sanctuary to 1080 Main Street, the Scott Properties property formerly known as the Scotsman.

“We all knew this day was coming and our new location is ideal,” Fair Bluff Auto owner Jeff Prince said. “I was determined to keep my business operation in Fair Bluff, and this location gives us more flexibility with a comfortable lobby area, more office space and much better exposure, as we are now in the path of downtown traffic.”

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