11/19/08 — Industrial property buys stall; buildings approved

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Industrial property buys stall; buildings approved

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 19, 2008 1:46 PM

Two wrinkles have complicated, but not halted, Wayne County's plans to secure potential industrial property sites, while commissioners have given the OK to acquire two other sites -- one for a new library and another for a potential county office building.

In the industrial site negotiations, one relative did not know about the family's plans to option property to the county. Another family appears to have decided it is more interested in selling the property now rather than waiting on an option.

Commissioners Tuesday morning followed through on those efforts by voting 7-0 to continue plans to secure options on the properties -- one near Mount Olive and the other near Pikeville -- just in case the families are able to resolve their issues.

The options were among several property-related issues approved Tuesday.

In a 7-0 vote, commissioners agreed to spend more than a combined $1.2 million to purchase the old Masons department store property at 1016 N. William St., and in a 6-1 vote, the old Belk-Tyler building on West Main Street in Mount Olive.

During the briefing session held prior to the board session, County Manager Lee Smith told commissioners that issues surrounding the Pikeville and Mount Olive property options had surfaced that morning and the day before.

The 89-acre Mount Olive site is located off U.S. 117 Bypass south near its intersection with Smith Chapel Road. The Lewis family heirs own it.

Interstate 795 and the Pikeville-Princeton Road are the boundaries of the 45-acre Pikeville site owned by Barbara Lancaster.

In the case of the Pikeville site, one of the owners had not been aware of the option until reading about it in the newspaper. In Mount Olive, it appears the family is more interested in an immediate sale.

Wayne County Economic Development Alliance President Joanna Helms said in a Tuesday afternoon interview that there apparently had been a breakdown in communication.

She said the commissioners' action shows there is still some work to be done, but that "no door has closed."

"I think today's message was let's move forward with the process," she said.

The Lewis property is adjacent to a 104-acre site the county optioned earlier this year creating what Smith calls a "mega-site."

The Pikeville site is part of the Wayne Economic Development Alliance's push to identify potential industrial sites in the northern part of the county.

The option price is $10,000 annually for each parcel.

There are no specific plans for either of the sites.

The board's actions in the two other property issues involve existing buildings.

The county has plans to renovate the old Masons property to house county offices, possibly the Health Department and Services on Aging.

The Belk building is expected to become the new home for the Steele Memorial Library.

The county will pay $850,000 for the Goldsboro site and $400,000 for the one in Mount Olive. The Belk property that is owned by Mount Olive College also includes a parking lot located diagonally across West Main Street from the building.

Commissioner Andy Anderson said he supported the library project, but suggested it be tabled because of the current economic uncertainty. Since the building is owned by the college, the delay should not prove a problem, he said.

Anderson said he would like to know how much it would cost to renovate the building and who would pay for it before proceeding.

He said he did not want the county to "jump too far too fast."

Smith said a new building would cost the county $4 million to $5 million, plus the cost of land.

The library has outgrown is current location, he said.

The Belk building has 23,000 square feet and the total property is about one and one-half acres. Along with the space for the library, the building is large enough for warehousing books as well, he said.

Smith said the county would not start renovations immediately.

He said the county had budgeted $200,000 in the current budget for the purchase. The college would accept a promissory note for the remaining $200,000 until July 1.

Commissioner J.D. Evans, who made the motion to purchase the property, said the county had been working on obtaining property for the past three years.

"An opportunity has been presented to us, and we need to move," Evans said. "We budgeted money for this to take place."

Commissioner Efton Sager voted no.

"I am just not voting," Anderson said.

Under the board's parliamentary rules, Anderson's action was counted as vote for the motion.

The cost of purchasing and renovating the Masons building and property also is much cheaper than building, Smith said.

It has been estimated that the county would have to spend $35 million or more for new homes for the Health Department and Department of Social Services.

No decision has been made as to what county offices eventually could be housed at the Masons property, but the Health Department and Services on Aging could be the top contenders, Smith said.

Currently, the Health Department and DSS are located in the old hospital building on East Ash Street.

Moving the Health Department would allow the county to sell some of the older outlying former hospital buildings now being used as well as some parking lots, Smith. That, he said, would create additional savings for the county.

Smith said the county has spent close to eight months working on obtaining the site.

The 86,000-square-foot building offers several advantages, Smith told commissioners.

It has a large parking lot with 400 parking spaces, and since the county would not change the site's "footprint," it would not have to worry about nitrogen runoff -- a costly issue that could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars

Another is its location. The site has access off Stronach Avenue as well as two entrance options off North William Street and it is on a major GATEWAY bus route.

Fiber cable is available off Stronach Avenue so it would be easy to connect the building to the county system

The building's roof needs to be replaced, the interior renovated, and a new fa├žade added. Engineers have been asked to determine if a second story could be built. A second floor could be office space, while the first could be used for Health Department services, Smith said.

No timetable has been established for the project and is expected to be accomplished in phases over several years.

Commissioner Atlas Price, who made the motion to purchase the property, said not only did the county need it, but that it is a "good investment."