County seeks more options for business park site
by Kellen Moore
The commissioners shared their views in a joint meeting Monday with the Economic Development Commission, which has proposed situating a business park on the 74-acre property to spur business development and provide additional jobs.
Consultants from InSite Consulting reported earlier this year that Watauga County was not prepared for economic expansion because it lacked available, client-ready sites.
The firm honed in on the former high school site because it already has key infrastructure, including an access road, curbs and gutters, electricity, natural gas, internet cables, sewer and water and other needs.
“This site is an opportunity because there’s stuff already there,” said EDC director Joe Furman.
Creating a ready-to-go business park could help attract light industrial or shipping businesses, research and development, and office users, among others, according to the EDC proposal.
The idea, EDC Chairman Keith Honeycutt said, would be to create a space in which interested businesses could come in and start “turning dirt” within 30 days.
“That’s a stretch, as you guys know, and it’s going to take work,” he said. “Anything worth having is worth working for.”
Commissioner Jim Deal, who was the most vocal proponent of the business park idea, was also the first to suggest that the former WHS site might not be the best place.
He said the county might do better financially by selling the old WHS site to a developer and reinvesting some of the money from that sale to buy land elsewhere for a park.
“From my perspective, these things aren’t exclusive,” Deal said of selling the property and creating a business park.
His Republican counterparts on the board were more hesitant, expressing interest in creating jobs and encouraging business but also voicing concerns about the cost.
“I like the concept of this, but I don’t know what the dollar amount would be if the county decided to go this way,” Vice Chairman Vince Gable said.
Blust also noted that it was hard for him to commit because no concrete price has been named.
Honeycutt said Monday that the EDC simply could not estimate a cost because each situation might play out differently. One company may want to build their own building; another might want prebuilt office space. Each business would represent a separate negotiation, he said.
Gable also referenced several other local properties that are currently sitting vacant and said that the former WHS property might actually include more acreage than needed for a business park.
“I’m leaning toward selling it as opposed to waiting, but I do like this project,” Gable said.
Chairman Nathan Miller said that while he now sees the value in creating a business park, he doesn’t believe it should be at the old WHS site. He said zoning and variances required by the town of Boone would make developing the site a headache.
“I’d rather see it outside the city limits for now so that we could develop it as we please,” Miller said, adding that it might be possible for the town to later annex the selected property if desired.
Commissioner Tim Futrelle was absent from the meeting.
The commissioners praised the work of the EDC, giving the commission credit for causing two recent property offers to come forward.
“I think y’all ought to pat yourselves on the back, because I think you’ve triggered what’s happened,” Deal said.
The commissioners directed the EDC to develop a proposal with a few potential sites besides the former high school site.