EAST DUBLIN, G.A. -- Tucked in the Georgia cotton fields, five hours from Charlotte, you'll find a one-stoplight community called Allentown and a field of dreams for a developer named Terry Keeney.
The same man who wants to redevelop the Philip Morris plant in Concord had equally ambitious plans for that small town in Georgia.
He wanted to buy 170 acres this way, said J.M Howell, pointing to plots of land along Interstate 16.
Two and a half years ago, Keeney approached Howell and his neighbors about buying their land -- thousands of acres.
Between1,500 and 2,000, said Howell.
What did Terry Keeney want to do with it?
Well, he wanted to build a city, said Howell, with a laugh. A big city. Banks. Shopping centers. And he was going to let the people of Allentown, the old folks, run 'em. Give 'em something to do. You know, they could all have a little store.
Keeney told Howell he had deep pockets.
He had $15 million in his pocket that day that he come up to see me in that restaurant, he said.
Keeney told a Twiggs County leader he had $1.5 billion in the bank, and planned to build a town called Genesis, named for the book of creation in the Bible. Howell even said Keeney promised him and other landowners jobs.
[He said] there's going to be a big water park right behind that Chevron station right there, said Howell. [He said I could] work in the water park. [He said I could have] free tickets to the race track.
On that land near Interstate 16, Keeney planned a racetrack and, according to people in town, dropped some NASCAR names. Howell said Keeney claimed to know former driver Rusty Wallace.
He thought he might be flying over, probably flying over lookin' most any day, Howell said. So be lookin' out there and if you see a small jet, flying around and circlin,' it might be Rusty Wallace.
Rusty Wallace never did show up in Allentown, and Wallace told the NewsChannel 36 I-Team he didn't know Terry Keeney.
He called me and wanted me to design a race track for him in Georgia. Multiple tracks, said Wallace. It sounded good, but he never could get the money. Our conversation was so short. I didn't know anything about his finances. I never did anything with the guy whatsoever. You'll never find a signed piece of paper with my name on it.
Matter of fact, we looked for Rusty Wallace in his airplane for days, said Howell. Every time we'd hear a little small plane, we'd be looking.
After property owners say they paid thousands to have their land surveyed, Genesis hasn't materialized. Howell said Keeney didn't look like a man who had millions.
Well, the vehicle he was riding in didn't, said Howell. It was an old car with a broke windshield.
If Terry Keeney has millions, he's not putting it into the headquarters for his company.
Stargate Worldwide is located in a rented sheep shearing barn on the edge of an old factory in East Dublin, Ga. On the day NewsChannel 36 visited, Keeney's son Aaron said his dad was in North Carolina, negotiating a deal to purchase the 2,200-acre Philip Morris Plant in Concord.
Keeney's website mentions plans for the Carolina USA Performance Park, a $750 million entertainment park for film, television and music production, a 3,500-seat theater, a water park, and even a petting zoo.
Keeney promised 4,500 jobs for a county hit hard for the economy.
4,500 jobs would cause our unemployment rate to drop by 50 percent, said John Cox, president and CEO of Cabarrus Economic Development.
He spoke weeks ago, when plans for the complex first came to light. We remain cautiously optimistic about the entire project, he said.
The caution flag should have been waved at a racetrack in East Dublin, Ga. In 2007, Terry Keeney announced to the Laurens County, Ga., board of commissioners that he'd purchased a dirt track named the 441 Speedway.
But according to the real owner of the racetrack, Justin McCorkel, Terry Keeney never owned the speedway. Instead, the owner said Keeney just rented a house on the property.
McCorkel said that didn't stop Keeney from selling sign sponsorships to nearby businesses, with Keeney pocketing thousands of dollars.
McCorkel says Keeney was evicted from a rental house on speedway property for not paying rent.
He warned the NewsChannel 36 I-Team about Keeney, saying, Stay as far away as possible.
Five hours after NewsChannel 36's first visit, the I-Team returned to Keeney's Stargate Worldwide headquarters to see if the $750 million developer had returned from North Carolina.
His son, Aaron, came outside. You need to not pay attention to the local people because if... I can't say nothin' else, he said.
But why not pay attention to the local people? Aren't they the ones who had contact with Terry Keeney?
Because if they're not willing to get behind something and willing to change, then... With that, Aaron Keeney walked back into the converted sheep shearing barn.
Within an hour, his father emailed the I-Team to say he's not fleecing anyone.
The harder you pry, the e-mail said, the more we will avoid keeping you in the loop. Do you treat every person that wants to create jobs in Cabarrus County like this? Most people we have met in your area are hard-working, God fearing, folks and don't take kindly to your negative news report, the e-mail said, before concluding, Maybe you are afraid of Christians?
Terry Keeney declined to speak further for this story because of a confidentiality agreement with Philip Morris, but agreed to do an on-camera interview with NewsChannel 36 next week.
Last week, Keeney announced that he had dropped his plans to use $100 million in federal stimulus bonds. He said he doesn't need it.
He also said the entertainment complex in Concord is moving ahead, and the deal should be completed in December.
In Georgia, the town of Genesis has not been built. Times remain tough. Land remains empty. But faith remains strong. And more than two years after he drove into Allentown in that old Chevy, the name Terry Keeney still prompts a laugh and a word of caution for people in North Carolina.
Beware, said J.M. Howell. It's not anything [that's] going to happen. He don't have that kind of money.