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Real Estate - Commercial

Officials Study Blue Clay Site's Potential

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Sep 6, 2019
The land above owned by New Hanover County off Blue Clay Road is being eyed for potential development. (Image C/O NHC)
New Hanover County aims to attract more private investment and jobs to the county by potentially bringing a 120-acre property on Blue Clay Road to market.
 
The county-owned property at 4301 Blue Clay Road has been the center of a contract between New Hanover County and Wilmington Business Development (WBD) to explore future possibilities for the site.
 
The county purchased most of the property, which borders the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office property, for $5.4 million in early 2008 to potentially use it for future expansion of the jail, said Jessica Loeper, the county’s chief communications officer.
 
The county’s jail diversion efforts and programs have helped keep the inmate population within the current facility, Loeper said. So about two years ago the county began to explore the idea of using the property for private investment, she said.
 
The property could become an option on the market for a company needing an industrial site.
 
The undeveloped land is zoned for heavy industrial land use, which according to the county’s zoning definition is open to manufacturing, fabrication, assembly and distribution.
 
Initial studies for the site show that the land could support about 800,000 square feet of industrial build-out, WBD CEO Scott Satterfield said.
 
WBD, an economic development organization serving Wilmington, New Hanover and Pender counties, received county funding over the past three budget years to investigate the site’s potential and start activities to ready it for possible future private development.
 
“WBD has been collecting and studying site information on the county’s behalf and will be conducting a master planning exercise, preliminary engineering report, cultural resource investigation and a site readiness certification for the property,” said Jennifer Rigby, the county’s strategy and policy coordinator. “This will help the county attract private investment aimed at creating jobs for our community.”
 
The county allocated $40,000 in FY 2017-18 to WBD for a market study on the property and $100,000 in FY 2018-19 for due diligence, with just over $9,500, is rolling over to this fiscal year for remaining payments. Another $60,000 was appropriated this fiscal year to develop a master plan and preliminary engineering report for the site. The county expects that full amount to be spent, Rigby said.
 
In the past year, due diligence work has included a traffic impact analysis, rail accessibility study, topography survey, geotechnical investigation, a boundary survey and environmental studies, Satterfield said.
 
“We will continue to navigate the due diligence process with our partners through completion. At the end of this due diligence we anticipate being able to market a viable shovel- ready site,” Satterfield said.
 
County officials, Rigby said, expect the master plan to be finished during this fiscal year, which runs through June 30.
 
“Once that is completed, we will have a better idea of any future funding needs. Once it is determined that the site is suitable for business development, Wilmington Business Development will market the site to clients and prospects,” Rigby said.
 
The property was recently selected to be a part of Duke Energy’s 2019 Site Readiness Program, in which the utility partners with county and local economic development officials to develop a strategy to get the site fully ready to market to industrial projects, according to a news release.
 
“At the end of this fiscal year we will have some master plan and a preliminary engineering report, and so at that point in time we will know what type of site improvements may need to happen. And then we can make some recommendations on how to move forward from there,” Rigby said, adding those recommendations would go to county commissioners.
 
Until then, the county does not know what more needs to happen with the site or how much it might cost, she said.
 
Some infrastructure, however, is underway in the Blue Clay Road area as part of a Cape Fear Public Utility- Authority project to bring water and sewer lines there.
 
“We envision this project mirroring the success we had in Pender County with the Pender Commerce Park,” Satterfield said. “Similarly, this land is county-owned, infrastructure will be ready and it sits in a good place logistically. A unique characteristic of this site is the rail access, which appeals to a wider range of prospects. The development of this land gives us another option in New Hanover County for future projects.”
 
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