County to offer building for industrial park expansion
MOUNT VERNON — About two weeks ago, New Hope Industries (NHI) Inc., which provides job services to clients with developmental disabilities, was informed it has five months to relocate from its present 1375 Newark Road location within the Mount Vernon Industrial Park.
The site is a county-owned property, and NHI has subleased it from the Knox County Board of Development Disabilities for more than a decade, commissioner Thom Collier said Tuesday. The developmental disabilities board, in turn, has leased the 35,000 square-foot, 6-acre site from Knox County.
On Tuesday morning, the Knox County Land Bank (Land Reutilization Corp.) Board of Directors met during an early-morning executive session. When they were finished, land bank President Jeff Gottke was authorized by unanimous vote to enter into a contract for the land bank to purchase the property. The plan for the property, Gottke said when reached by phone Tuesday, is for the land bank to sell the site to an industrial tenant that will offer “the highest and best use” for the property.
The process for the sale will follow the form of the recent sale of the Elmwood Fire Station on Ames Street, in which the land bank acted as the city of Mount Vernon’s agent in selling the property. In this case, Gottke said, the land bank will serve as the county commissioners’ agent in acquiring and selling the property, which would include its posting for sale on the Area Development Foundation Inc. website. But first, he said, county commissioners must approve the land bank’s action, which should be on their agenda by next week.
Reached for comment Tuesday, NHI Business Manager and Assistant CEO Angie Wise said she could not yet provide comment because she has not had time to discuss the land bank action with CEO Dennis Eggerton and the NHI board. Gottke said ADF is willing to help NHI find a new location. NHI has been the only client in the building but has not made maximum use of the space, which is why it is considered “under-utilized,” Gottke added.
Collier said the county’s decision to have the land bank sell the property is a recent development. It does not have anything to do with having one business in mind to buy the property. Rather, the commissioners, and even more so ADF, have been hearing from industrial park tenants and other businesses that they wish to expand — but there not being enough room for their needs, he said. And that means they may have to look elsewhere.
The current site never was envisioned as being a long-term answer for NHI’s needs, but rather a temporary location, Collier said. In addition, there has been no active, signed lease renewal for about a year. And Collier added to his knowledge, neither NHI nor the developmental disabilities board has asked for a lease renewal. Under such a situation, by law, the county need only give NHI one month notice to move, not five. But Collier added he can understand why NHI or any tenant would want more time to move, up to a year. But the county needs to find a viable, industrial, job-creating, tax-paying tenant as soon as possible, he said.
“We are not questioning the value of what they (at NHI) do,” Collier said, noting that commissioners have been attending annual NHI awards breakfast gatherings for a dozen years, and are happy to see workers with developmental disabilities and their supervisors awarded for their work.
He continued, “But we need to find the highest and best use for the property. There is an economic driver here, and it’s the number of businesses that want to expand locally but are unable to do so. It doesn’t make sense for the county to own a non-taxed property in the middle of the city’s industrial park.”
Gottke noted there has been pressure from the state in recent years to move developmentally disabled clients away from sheltered workshops for work and embrace more client-independent off-site work.
The 6 acres of land at the site is valued at $120,000, with 35,000 square feet of building space valued at $456,780, according to the Knox Count Auditor. The assessed building value has declined by about $46,000 since 2013, with substantial improvements needed including roof replacement, Gottke said.