New Hope Industries given until April 15, 2020 to vacate
MOUNT VERNON — Knox County Commissioners authorized the Knox County Land Bank on Thursday to acquire and then sell the property at 1375 Newark Road including its 35,000 square-foot building, while also giving its long-time occupant, New Hope Industries Inc., until April 15, 2020, to vacate the property.
The county had previously told NHI during a June 27 meeting facilitated by Commissioner Thom Collier that it had until Dec. 1 to move — just five months — because several Mount Vernon Industrial Park businesses needed room to expand.
Land Bank President Jeff Gottke and its legal counsel, Jeffry Harris, attended Thursday’s meeting to go over the details of the Real Estate Purchase agreement. The Land Bank will immediately begin marketing the site and accept project applications, given just 30 days to identify an “end user” (buyer) that will buy the property from the Land Bank.
Harris said there are several Mount Vernon Industrial Park businesses in need of space to expand and are likely to put in bids. Commissioner Bill Pursel said following the meeting that based on other county-owned properties with large buildings, the appraised value may come in around the $1.5 million range. The appraisal will occur no later than July 31.
The county, Land Bank and property buyer would then have 150 days to close the property purchase, with the Land Bank to make a 10 percent commission. The Land Bank is placing a $5,000 deposit on its commitment to being the commissioners’ sole agent tasked with selling the site to a buyer that will, ultimately, be determined to have submitted a project offering the most valuable use of the property at the best price.
NHI has been the building tenant since 1981, providing client services to people with developmental disabilities that include manufacturing floor work opportunities for clients who assemble and package parts for about a dozen Mount Vernon Industrial Park businesses. NHI has subleased the building from the county Board of Developmental Disabilities for $1 per year since 2007. It was the same year the DD board and NHI were privatized. The DD board, which paid for substantial building improvements as has NHI, has in turn leased the site from county commissioners.
But the lease has not been in place since April of last year, commissioners have said, because the DD board has agreed that the cost of maintaining the building has been costly while giving NHI a competitive advantage over other private entities that assist client with developmental disabilities. DD board Supt. Steve Oster, who is on vacation and did not attend Thursday’s meeting, confirmed that reasoning for the dissolved lease this week, saying giving one entity a $1 yearly lease is an advantage over several other private agencies in the county providing similar services. Oster added that the DD board wants to assist NHI with a smooth transition to its new site once it identifies a place to relocate.
County commissioners Teresa Bemiller, Collier and Pursel emphasized Thursday that it is the DD board that has pressed for NHI to relocate — since there are industrial park businesses that need room to expand in addition to the advantages NHI has had in occupying the property at next to no cost. They also said the county will pocket no money from the sale of the property, and that the sale proceeds will go to the DD board.
Mount Vernon City Councilor Mike Hillier, a former employment services manager at NHI, asked commissioners if the DD board would provide funds to NHI for their relocation. Bemiller, when pressed by Hillier, said she would support the DD board assisting NHI with their move but added that is up to the DD board. NHI officials have said they have spent more than $200,000 in improvements on the site, including a heating and cooling system, bathroom remodeling, a new front foyer area that includes a conference room, and exterior painting.
NHI was represented at Thursday’s meeting by CEO Dennis Eggerton and Assistant CEO/Business Manager Angie Wise. Wise said during a conversation late last week with County Administrator Jason Booth, she asked for commissioners to give NHI until June of 2020 to complete their relocation, since they weren’t informed they had to move until June 27. She added that being informed so late in the year of the required move has resulted in NHI missing deadlines for grant funds that could have helped the non-profit, private entity with its relocation.
But Bemiller said commissioners used a deadline of April 15 next year because that is approximately when their already-expired sublease with the DD board would have expired had it continued. Bemiller also said commissioners are aware that NHI has been looking at potential relocation sites in recent weeks. One site NHI has viewed is the Siemens property, with Wise and Gottke looking at different Siemens buildings on Wednesday. Harris and Gottke are president and vice president of the Area Development Foundation, which operates the Land Bank under contract with Knox County.
ADF has pledged relocation assistance to NHI, with Gottke offering this week that ADF and the Land Bank wish to see NHI find a well-suited relocation spot that provides a “soft landing” for the private entity. Harris reiterated that same goal before commissioners. Wise has said at previous meetings with commissioners over the past week that any new site to move into would likely require NHI hiring an architect to draw up plans for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and other needs, such as multiple restrooms. NHI may also be one of the entities to submit a project application to the Land Bank, Wise and Eggerton said after Thursday’s meeting. Eggerton said during a previous commissioners’ meeting that NHI has funds to buy property.
Gottke noted there is a feeling around the community that “the fix is in” with the Land Bank already knowing to whom the property will be sold. But that is “absolutely untrue,” with each applicant to be treated fairly, he offered. Hillier grilled Harris about the mission statement of the county Land Bank, offering that, using its own language, it is to improve neighborhoods, provide economic opportunities and remove blight. Harris said, however, that the Land Bank is also authorized under Ohio Revised Code to act as the county’s sole agent in revitalizing and repurposing properties, including government-owned surplus property as is the case with 1375 Newark Road.
Harris reminded Hillier that the Land Bank is also the sole agent authorized to sell surplus property for the city of Mount Vernon, as it did in acquiring and selling the former Elmwood Fire Station on Ames Street earlier this year, a conversion into a single-family residence he offered is proceeding well.
“I didn’t agree with that one, either,” Hillier responded.