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County accepts bid for industrial park lot

With a 6-1 vote, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners on Monday approved Harry Smith’s bid of $46,575 — or $7,500 per acre — for a 6.21-acre lot in the Washington-Beaufort County Industrial Park. An upset bid process will be conducted before the sale is finalized, as required by state law.

Smith is CEO of Pamlico Air, a local manufacturer that already uses the industrial park’s Industry-Ready Building for its high-efficiency air filtration division.

“I can’t hold anybody to say, ‘Yes, we’re going to expand that business.’ That’s not the way things work,” said Beaufort County Economic Development Director Martyn Johnson. “But my understanding would be that he’s buying this land to expand that business.”

Commissioner Stan Deatherage voted against approving the bid.

BACKGROUND

Monday was the second time Johnson presented the bid for the Board’s approval. In April, Johnson presented Smith’s original bid of $5,000 per acre. Upon seeing that first bid, some commissioners asked if certain conditions could be tied to the offer. Richardson suggested that the commissioners accept the officer on the condition that the buyer starts construction on the lot within two years, in order to prevent the buyer from sitting on the property. County Manager Brian Alligood said that a UNC School of Government representative told him that the county can’t attach conditions to land that it is disposing of.

“When you dispose of a piece of property, you can’t attach conditions because it’s essentially saying we don’t need this (land) anymore, the county doesn’t have any use for it,” Alligood said.

Chairman Frankie Waters agreed with Richardson and said he didn’t have a problem selling a property for below its market value as long as there was a guarantee that something would be built on the property. He said there is farmland in Pantego with no utilities connected that has sold for more than what the original offer for the industrial park lot was.

“Why $5,000 an acre? Frankie’s right,” Deatherage said. “You’re talking $7,000-$8,000 for farmland, and the only thing you can do on that land is farming. … You can’t do anything else with it. Here, we’ve got all the utilities — I mean, you could do some really fine work there. Why are we getting rid of this property?

The commissioners ultimately  approved John Rebholz’s motion to reject the offer.

NEW BID

After reviewing Smith’s new $7,500-per-acre bid Monday, Deatherage noted that there was no formal agreement saying that Pamlico Air would build on the lot. He asked what would happen if, during the upset bid process, an investor outbid Smith and proceeded to do nothing with the property.

“Land prices are really up now, and we bought this to bring business to our area,” Deatherage said. “And when you sell it to somebody on a ‘what if, maybe, kinda, who knows,’ I’m not so sure we’re doing our fiduciary to the people of Beaufort County — many of whom weren’t even interested in all this economic development that we spent millions of dollars on in the last number of years. If we change the rules of the road now, I just don’t see it.”

“… I don’t have a crystal ball,” Johnson responded. “I can’t say what’s going to happen on that site. But given what is happening with Pamlico Air — and the fact that they’ve just been partly bought by Mann + Hummel — I believe that site will be built on in the next five years.

“… If I was to place my bets as to leaving that site vacant (or) selling it to Harry, I would go with Harry,” Johnson added.

Pamlico Air’s corporate headquarters is located in downtown Washington. Mann + Hummel Group, an industrial products company based in Ludwidsburg, Germany, announced in early March that it hade mate a “strategic investment” in Pamlico Air. The terms of that investment weren’t disclosed. Pamlico Air is now part of the Mann + Hummel Group.

“This strategic partnership with Mann + Hummel enhances Pamlico Air’s operational capabilities and gives us a significant stake in one of the most exciting segments of filtration,” Smith said in an press release announcing the investment. “We see significant opportunities to drive value for Mann + Hummel’s air filtration business in the region.”