Economic development leaders looking for more industrial land

Published 6:37 pm Thursday, March 28, 2019

Industrial land is scarce in Boyle County, according to members of the Boyle County Industrial Foundation. That’s one factor they say played a part in their decision to withdraw a 100-plus-acre tract of prime industrial park land from consideration for a multi-million-dollar bourbon project from international distiller Diageo.

It’s a problem those same Industrial Foundation members want to solve by identifying and developing more industry-ready land — but they don’t want the Industrial Foundation to do it; they believe it would be better to accomplish that through Develop Danville, which is the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership or EDP.

Those are the main takeaways from conversations about the current industrial park and where leaders might look next for more land, held during this month’s Develop Danville board meeting and the agency’s Asset Development Committee meeting.

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“The Industrial Foundation is completely committed to the EDP structure. We think it’s the right structure for us to do this stuff together,” said Alan Turbyfill, treasurer of the Industrial Foundation. “… Going forward, we must develop additional industrial property.

Alan Turbyfill, treasurer for the Boyle County Industrial Foundation, talks during a Develop Danville board meeting this month. Photo by Ben Kleppinger.

But there are questions about how Develop Danville could go about such development in a legal way. Develop Danville has $100,000 set aside in its draft budget for asset development — which is dependent in part on public partners Danville and Boyle County doubling their current contributions.

$50,000 of that would be spent to develop a private property, a Norfolk Southern-owned tract along the railroad, in between the Main Street/Perryville Road viaduct and the southern side of the Danville bypass. Another $25,000 would be for initial planning and design work to make an existing industrial site “pad-ready” — meaning it would be easy for a business to come in and immediately start building. And $25,000 would also be allocated for planning and design to expand the industrial park’s current footprint.

But government representatives on Develop Danville’s board have pointed out previously they are prohibited from spending taxpayer money on developing privately owned land. That means if the industrial foundation or Norfolk Southern owns a property, the city and county can’t legally provide funding to improve it.

“If we spend money on industrial foundation land, other property owners are going to want us to spend money on their land,” City Commissioner Denise Terry said previously.

Develop Danville President and CEO Jody Lassiter told Asset Development Committee members this is the first time any such type of asset development funding has been put into the proposed budget. Further development of industrial land is critical to Boyle County success, he said, noting that Develop Danville and the Industrial Foundation have lost prospective businesses in the past due to a lack of well-developed land.

Project Eagle — a $100-million, 275-job industrial project that was eyeing Danville before it decided against Kentucky and then got shelved indefinitely — liked the Norfolk Southern property along the railroad, but the lack of infrastructure and land ready to build on there prevented them from choosing it, Lassiter said. The prospect loved a tract of land in the industrial park — the same tract Diageo had been interested in — but it didn’t have direct rail access, Lassiter said.

Project Eagle is not the only major industrial project lost due to the condition of the Norfolk Southern site, he said. And the types of projects that locate with direct rail access tend to have higher job counts, he noted.

“We’ve been to the altar way too many times as the bride for excellent projects and the status of the site is such that it’s just not attractive compared to a community that has road, just happens to have rail through the industrial park …”

Jody Lassiter, president and CEO of Develop Danville, says development of a Norfolk Southern-owned rail site in Danville would make a big difference in attracting and keeping prospective new businesses. Photo by Ben Kleppinger.

Due to the need for more industrial land and the concerns about public funding, Develop Danville Chair Ben Nelson is forming a special working group of Develop Danville members to investigate the situation and come up with a plan for how the agency might proceed in a way its public partners would be agreeable to.

“The work group is going to kind of help us navigate how to get to yes and the result that we’re needing,” Lassiter said.

Industrial Foundation Chair and Asset Development Committee member John Albright said the committee might also form its own subcommittee to begin identifying other areas of the county that could be turned into easily developed industrial land with strong infrastructure supports.

“Obviously if we find a site and the owner doesn’t want to sell, that solves that, but we need to be able to go to the next area,” he said. “At some point, we could end up at a place that from an engineering standpoint makes sense, and from an economic standpoint makes sense, too.”

Asset Development Committee members said they believe more opportunities lie to the south of the current industrial park than to the north. Infrastructure is already well developed as you head south thanks to development along the bypass, while areas to the north are less developed and there has been opposition to development there before.

Jennifer Kirchner, an Asset Development Committee member and executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said heading south to where the infrastructure is already in place falls in line with “smart growth” principles, which call for avoiding sprawl and developing in compact spaces.