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Watauga Commissioners Encourage EDC to Look for Industrial Park Elsewhere – Not at High School Property

By Jesse Wood

Oct. 8, 2012. The odds of an industrial park being constructed at the old Watauga High School are roughly the same as the Carolina Panthers winning the Super Bowl next February.

It’s not going to happen.

On Monday evening, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners met with the Economic Development Commission regarding a potential Class A Business Park at the 75-acre property which has sat dormant for several years.

With two recent offers to purchase the old high school property in the $15-million range and a “rumor” of a third offer, as Chair Nathan Miller put it on Monday, the commissioners are prepared to sell the property for small markup of $16.5 million to increase the county’s tax base and reduce the massive debt owed to fund the new high school.

It’s not that the commissioners didn’t like the idea of an industrial park and the high-paying jobs that come with it; they do. They just don’t think the old Watauga High School property is the most economical place for it.

Commissioner Jim Deal, who knew the Republican-led board wasn’t going to allow the sell of this property to slip away from them before the election changes the board, was the first to suggest that the EDC look for another property that could be purchased and developed for a fraction of the commissioners’ recent counteroffer of $16.5 million for the two bids.

Deal mentioned that even if the old high school was sold for student housing with mixed retail, the potential business park and the likely forthcoming sale don’t have to be “exclusive.”

“It doesn’t mean that we couldn’t take some of that money and buy the land [for a business park somewhere further out of town where the land is cheaper] and develop it at a lower cost than the value of what we are selling,” Deal said.

The other commissioners – with Commissioner Tim Futrelle absent – didn’t go as far as to say that, but they did direct the EDC to put together proposals for other pieces of suitable property and bring it to the board in the future.

Commissioner Vince Gable and Miller once again asked for some concrete numbers of what the upfront costs the county would incur to build a park and its rate of return.

EDC Chairman Keith Honeycutt said there are too many different kinds of scenarios for him to lay out exact costs. He mentioned that some companies might want to own a building on a business park and others might prefer to rent. He added that different businesses will require different infrastructure and negotiation to entice companies to come to Watauga County would likely ensue if a park was built.

“For me to give a dollar amount, there is no way,” Honeycutt said, also adding that there is no way of guaranteeing a rate of return, especially in light of the current economy, that would net the county more money than it could receive from selling the property for the recent market offerings.

As he has said before the board of commissioners in the past, Tommy Sofield of U.S. Buildings located at the current Watauga County Industrial Park Drive off of U.S. 421, spoke about having to set up shop in Wilkes County because Watauga didn’t have more suitable space for his thriving business. Sofield said he would much rather employee one hundred more Wataugans for those jobs.

Last week he told High Country Press, “I think our community needs an opportunity for our young folks to have good jobs and the best jobs in the county would be manufacturing jobs. It’s clear that retail sales are between $13,000 and $15,000 payroll and manufacturing jobs are in the $40,000 and $50,000 range [where] certainly folks are making more money.”

And the commissioners didn’t disagree. Commissioner David Blust thanked him for bringing the dilemma of U.S. Steel sending jobs to Wilkes County to the board’s attention

Still, though, that wasn’t enough to deter the board from favoring the sale of the property for immediate returns. The two offers from Place Acquisition and Campus Crest Development require no outside financing for the purchase of the property, and if an offer is closed, that would immediately put the property on the county and Town of Boone’s tax rolls. Once the property is developed, then those tax monies would increase further. 

“The long term [of an industrial park] is going to be very positive, but what about the short term? … I know that maybe shortsighted,” Gable said. “If there are other ways of doing it I am all for it.”

In the end, the commissioners agreed that they do in fact favor the concept of an industrial park but not at the old Watauga High School property and encouraged the EDC to bring proposals for one, two or maybe even three suitable properties that could address Watauga County’s lack of a manufacturing industry.

Read a prior article regarding the proposed business park: https://www.hcpress.com/news/whats-best-for-boone-watauga-county-at-old-whs-site-light-industrial-park-or-student-housing-with-retail.html