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Shell buildings emphasized

By By MIKE VOSS Contributing Editor
Beaufort County's Economic Development Commission on Thursday unveiled its strategic plan, which calls for constructing shell buildings to attract industrial prospects, expanding the Committee of 100 to 600 members and completing development of the Beaufort County Industrial Park.
Tom Thompson, the commission's executive director, said the strategic plan is the culmination of a two-year effort. It will be presented to the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners on April 7 and the Washington City Council on April 14.
During his presentation of the strategic plan, Thompson explained why he believes building shell buildings -- a basic structure suitable for some modification for industrial purposes -- is a good idea. Thompson said he researched the issue and discovered that 86 percent of industrial prospects are attracted to a place because a building is available, and 14 percent of industrial prospects are attracted to a place because a building site is available.
Though the EDC wants to build a shell building, it won't ask Washington and Beaufort County to appropriate funds in their 2003-2004 budgets for such a facility. The EDC may not request county and city funds until the 2005-2006 budget year.
According to EDC figures, the annual mortgage payment for a shell building would be about $88,000, with the county paying $48,400 and the city paying $39,000. The county and city split their EDC costs, with the county paying 55 percent of the bill and the city paying the remaining 45 percent.
The Committee of 100, a nonprofit group that helps the EDC attract industrial prospects and promote economic development, would pay the first-year interest on the mortgage.
The plan also calls for aggressively seeking developers for the proposed Belhaven marina project, a mix of commercial and residential uses. The plan, designed by urban planner Allison Platt, calls for developing the project in three phases. The final phase would be construction of a marina with 200 boat slips, a fuel dock, shower house and possibly a hotel and restaurant nearby.
Thompson said the plan calls for the project to be completed in 10 years.
Belhaven Mayor Charles O. Boyette, an EDC member, said his town is excited about the proposal.
The strategic plan calls for the Committee of 100 to spend $5,000 on an advertising campaign to promote building a hotel and conference center on part of the former Moss Planing Mill property. Thompson told EDC members two "major developers" are showing cursory interest in the idea. After the meeting, he declined to identify those developers.
Thompson also said a private-public partnership is needed to complete development of the industrial park by extending water and sewer lines to serve new industries that may locate there and to construct a skills center. He said the EDC will ask the city and county to consider borrowing money to further develop the industrial park, which recently was added to the state's list of certified industrial parks.
The center, which would serve as a workforce training facility for employees of new industry and house EDC offices, would be about 20,000 square feet.
Another function of the center would be to provide training space for the expansion of or retooling existing industry. This training can be done by Beaufort County Community College, the industry or by machine tool manufacturers who provide such training with the purchase of equipment, Thompson said last year.
The facility would be built with about $490,000 in grant money and a $356,000 loan from the county.
EDC Chairman Jeryl Rawls said the commission is preparing to select someone to design the skills center. Rawls said one feature of the center has been determined, a ceiling that's 26 feet from the floor. Having a high ceiling means the building can accommodate more uses than if it has a lower ceiling, Rawls noted.
Thompson also briefly reviewed the EDC's proposed operating budget, which excludes capital expenditures, for fiscal year 2003-2004 beginning July 1. That proposed spending plan comes to $256,644. The EDC's current operating budget is $266,260.
The strategic plan also calls for the EDC to raise $125,000 for special projects, continue efforts to locate ethanol plants in the county and bring a hotel to Aurora, support Bath's tricentennial and look at the feasibility of locating a senior living center in the county.
In other business, the commission met in a closed session to discuss matters relating to the location or expansion of industries or other businesses in the area served by the commission. No action resulted from the closed session.
The commission next meets at 7:45 a.m. April 24 at the Boyette Center in Belhaven.