6/29/2011 - Buncombe to pay $7 million for Volvo plant near Asheville
by Mark Barrett - Asheville Citizen Times
GOOD JOBS NEWS HERE IN THE MOUNTAINS - both local owned and global!!
ASHEVILLE -- The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 Tuesday to test the proposition that if you buy it, they will come.
In what appears to be the largest real estate purchase the county has made in decades, perhaps in its history, commissioners voted to buy the former Volvo Construction Equipment plant in Skyland for $7 million.
The move is designed to lure a large manufacturer to operate out of the 405,108-square-foot facility off Hendersonville Road and could set the stage for a major economic development announcement in the near future.
Online help-wanted ads suggest that that company might be Linamar Corp., a maker of auto parts and a variety of other equipment based in Guelph, Ontario, but Linamar's involvement could not be confirmed.
A Linamar spokeswoman declined comment by email, and commissioners would not say anything about the identity of any possible occupant of the Volvo property. Companies considering new facilities often demand confidentiality from local officials.
Commissioners discussed in closed session June 7 efforts to lure a company that would bring up to 400 jobs to the area and make a $125 million investment, according to minutes of the session, but there was no indication then that the unnamed company had made a commitment to come here.
Gov. Bev Perdue said while visiting Asheville on Friday that she hoped to return "fairly soon" to make an economic development announcement.
Kit Cramer, president and CEO of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, wrote this week that people attending the chamber's annual meeting Thursday should expect to "hear big news that will have a lasting impact on our community."
Volvo shut down operations at the plant at 2169 Hendersonville Road during the first quarter of 2010, putting 228 employees out of work. The company had not sold the plant, which a state Department of Commerce listing said was being offered for $10.75 million.
Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton, who has worked in county government for more than a quarter-century, said he could not recall the county making such a large real estate purchase. County Manager Wanda Greene has said the county will borrow the money for the purchase.
Commissioners said little Tuesday about their reasons for buying the plant.
"We hear time after time after time that it's our responsibility to try ... to help the economic development activities here in Buncombe County," said Commissioner Carol Peterson. "I think this resolution (to buy the property) addresses that."
Commissioner K. Ray Bailey, also chairman of the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe Co unty, and Chairman David Gantt said previously that the purchase could help lure a manufacturer and would keep the plant and its 65 acres from being converted to a non-manufacturing use.
Since Volvo closed, others have expressed interest in buying the property for other projects, County Attorney Michael Frue said.
"The last thing that we'd want to see ... would be to see it leveled and have a strip mall or apartments put on the site," he said.
Jerry Sternberg, an Asheville investor in commercial and industrial property, told commissioners that he had looked at the property and that buying it for $7 million is an "excellent" investment.
"I've been assured that there's an immediate customer for this building, whether it's a tenant or a buyer," he said.
That makes it a good deal for the county, he said, but it would not be without an occupant lined up. The cost of keeping the plant secure and in good condition could be $300,000 or more annually, Sternberg said.
"If there is an element of speculation in this deal, I think it's a dangerous and precipitous cliff that you might fall over," he said.
Linamar has more than 12,700 employees and 39 manufacturing locations. The company has advertised for a general manager for a startup facility in the Asheville area and for other positions in Western North Carolina. Those ads, however, do not say how large the facility would be or where it would be located.