Design plans to get utilities in the ground at New Hanover County’s 120-acre Blue Clay Business Park are anticipated soon, setting the framework for a project that is expected to be complete by summer 2022.
Plans will be turned over “within the next several weeks” according to the county’s chief strategy officer, Jennifer Rigby. “We are anticipating construction to begin immediately after that,” she said.
The undeveloped land has been in the county’s hands since it purchased roughly 100 acres next to the New Hanover County Detention Facility in 2008 for $5.3 million. Initially, the land was set aside in case the facility would need to expand, but around 2017, with jail populations in check, the county started to explore its private market potential.
A 145-foot Duke Energy power line easement bisects the 120-acre site, of which 85 acres are considered developable. Zoned heavy industrial (I-2), it could accommodate an estimated 875,000 square feet of industrial space among several buildings. Major assets of the site are its connection to the CSX rail line and proximity to Interstate 140.
Funding for the initiative arrived in the form of federal COVID relief funds this summer. County staff recommended commissioners set aside $3.6 million for the business park out of its $45.4 million American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act package, which permits the use of funds for infrastructure projects.
Without the federal boost, County Manager Chris Coudriet previously said, progress at the park would have been years away.
The timing was convenient – the county already had much of the early due diligence complete before the funding came through. “We had it teed up,” Rigby said. “This is a great way to implement the vision we’ve already been working towards.”
Once it comes time for a tenant to move in, Rigby said the county would sell the land rather than lease it. Less than 4 miles away, the New Hanover County Airport Authority leases land in its ILM Business Park, which picked up two new tenants in November; these tenants are planning to bring a combined $120 million in investment to their projects.
Getting infrastructure in the ground was a key recommendation of the 2014 Garner Economics report, which highlighted the county’s deficient stock of shovel-ready industrial sites. Alongside the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, the county's $18 million infrastructure investment along U.S. 421 was a direct response to Garner's recommendations. A refresher of that report is currently underway.
Two months after nailing down the ARP spending strategy, the county put out a request for proposals for infrastructure design services at the park in June, which was later awarded to McKim & Creed for $400,000.
The RFP called for design services for infrastructure at the park to include access roads, stormwater, landscaping, lighting, erosion control, and water and sewer.
It was based on a master plan completed by the Timmons Group in June 2020, which included total probable construction costs of nearly $2.3 million. The consultant’s report only recommended the design of a sewer pump station and force main, but not the construction of this infrastructure until a tenant was known.
Rigby said at this point she can't say whether the project will come in over or under its $3.6 million budget.
The Timmons Group estimated, under a full build-out scenario with over 1 million square feet of a mix of industrial businesses, that the park would generate roughly $2 million in annual real estate and personal business taxes for New Hanover County and $2 million in income taxes for North Carolina.
Wilmington Business Development (WBD) consulted with the Timmons Group to produce the site analysis and master plan. Between 2017 and 2019, the county gave WBD a combined $200,000 to perform due diligence of the site to ensure it was feasible for development.
WBD has been marketing the site as-is, but CEO Scott Satterfield told the Business Journal in June it is “very difficult to market dirt without infrastructure.”
In a Tuesday email, Satterfield said he anticipates key infrastructure in place in the second or third quarter of 2022.
“From our perspective," he said, "this work will make the property more marketable moving forward as we continue to recruit business [and] industry to the region."
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