275-job industrial project no longer targeting Danville

Published 6:14 am Friday, October 19, 2018

An unnamed business prospect is no longer considering Danville as a location for a $100-million, 275-job industrial project.

That’s according to the newest “project funnel” report released by the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership on Wednesday.

Project Eagle, as it was codenamed by the EDP, generated headlines earlier this year when economic development officials sparred with some members of the local Board of Adjustments over a variance needed in order for Danville to remain on the short list for the project.

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The Board of Adjustments ultimately voted — twice — to grant  variances allowing for a building up to 150 feet tall.

But on the EDP’s third-quarter project funnel report, Project Eagle is now officially listed as being lost to attrition. The report states that the prospect narrowed its possible locations to “two other Kentucky communities plus one to two other states before (the) project (was) possible shelved indefinitely.”

Asked about losing Project Eagle on Wednesday, EDP President Jody Lassiter said the two other Kentucky sites had “rail sites that more closely met the project’s specifications and would be less costly to develop.”

“Two other states are still in contention for the project,” Lassiter said. “However, it is my understanding that the project may not go forward now due to the U.S.-European tariff situation.”

The project funnel report documents all of the prospective business development projects in Boyle County that the EDP is aware of. During 2018, the EDP has helped with 100 initial inquiries. Seventy of those were deemed “qualified” projects, meaning Danville-Boyle County could feasibly meet all the projects’ needs.

Out of those 70, 44 have moved on to the “due diligence” phase, as the business does more investigation and planning for its opening or expansion. Out of those 44, the funnel report says 10 have reached the final stage of public announcement. Five of those are still in process; five are completed.

Among those announced are:

• IJW Whiskey — a distillery project along Lebanon Road, where rickhouses are currently under construction;

• Hill-n-Dale Apartments — a renovation of an apartment complex with an estimated investment of between $1 million and $5 million;

• Reclaimed Reserve — a business expansion on Stewarts Lane with an estimated investment of between $500,000 and $1 million;

• Wilderness Trail Distillery — a distillery that acquired additional industrial land in June;

• Love Your Mother Lawns — a new small business with an estimated investment of less than $100,000;

• Pallets 2 Bins — a Junction City business that announced its opening on June 28; and

• Gospel Garden Learning — a new day care business that opened in September and is employing between one and nine people.

Also listed as “announced” is the Luca Mariano Distillery project, which could be located on farmland off of Ky. 52 on the east side of Danville.

Luca Mariano owner Francesco Viola has gone public with his plan for the property. But the project is still “conditional upon state incentive approval and land rezoning,” the funnel report notes.

With the closing of A Children’s Place day care center earlier this year, community leaders have been working to attract new day care businesses to fill the hole. The project funnel lists five different prospective day care businesses, all of which are in the “due diligence” phase. Gospel Garden is the only day care project that has been announced; one other day care project has been lost to attrition.

‘Post-mortem’ closed session

The EDP board apparently discussed two of the 12 projects that made it to the “due diligence” phase but then were lost to attrition in a closed session during its Wednesday meeting.

During open session, board members discussed what might be done to learn from business prospects that don’t wind up choosing Danville-Boyle County.

“It’s important to look at why we lose (prospects),” Danville City Commissioner Denise Terry said. “Sometimes, it’s out of our control. Sometimes, we might be able to (do something different).”

“And we’re going into closed session — if I ever get there — to talk about two projects to your point exactly,” EDP Chair Ben Nelson responded. “… When I screw up, doing a post-mortem to figure out how I could have done better is absolutely the right thing to do.”

Audience member Mary Beth Touchstone asked the board if there is a good process in place for understanding what happened when a business looks elsewhere.

“That is the detail that occurs behind the scenes,” Nelson responded. “… We have to understand when we lose something, what was within our circle of influence that we could have done better. And that’s the power of this, and that’s the power of this board, understanding what’s behind all of this.”

Nelson said there is clear information on some projects. “Some of this is proprietary information that I can’t sit here and talk about without violating the proprietary confidence of the client.��

Terry said if there are specific reasons that a business didn’t choose Boyle County, the EDP board needs to know — and other agencies in the county that might have been able to do something differently need to know, too.

“The first step of that is I’ve got to get this board on the clue bus,” Nelson said. “It’s this board that has to say, ‘Oh, we see a systemic issue or process issue and we need to go work that.’ And this board isn’t there yet in my opinion.”

Lassiter said he tracks to the best of his ability why each project does not proceed. Many of the 12 “due diligence” projects that were lost were because they selected other communities, he said.

“And that’s where a post-mortem makes sense,” Nelson said. “Where we do have identifiable — ‘this is why Boyle County didn’t land it’ — we should understand that, we should make sure the key stakeholders are aware of that, because if there is a remedy that we as a community can undertake, we should get after that. And like I said, we’re going to try to go into closed session because there’s two I want to talk about to help this board understand what’s going on.”

The EDP board voted later in the meeting to enter executive session. The exception to Kentucky’s Open Meetings Act cited allows for closed-door discussions of specific business proposals “if open discussions would jeopardize the siting, retention, expansion or upgrading of the business.”

Nelson was asked how the exception applies to business projects that have already decided against siting or expanding in Boyle County. He paused, then referred the question to Lassiter.

“Both projects have finally sited, but we need to have a discussion of that, such that we can come back and give a full public report as to what’s happening,” Lassiter said.

Asked if he maintained that public discussion could affect the siting of the businesses in question, Lassiter said, “Yes, particularly if they come back to us. That’s the problem.”