NEWBERRY — Debate is continuing to decide if Newberry County Council will proceed with building a speculative building and how it will be financed.
The approval to go ahead and build the shell building at the Mid-Carolina Commerce Park and two options of financing it has passed two readings. The third reading was scheduled for December and 63 residents appeared at the council meeting in support of the county building the building.
But County Council delayed the decision and decided to hold a workshop, which was held Tuesday, to review the project. The engineering work being done by Alliance Consulting Engineers was also put on hold.
The spec building will be a 55,000-square-foot building that could be expanded to 100,000 or as big as 150,000-square-feet. The building would have walls, a roof, limited lighting, some exhaust fans and no floor.
Alliance Consulting Engineers Principal Jamie Frost told the group the building will take around $2 million to complete.
The decision to look at building the industrial spec building came when the council was told that in October 77 percent of industries looking to locate in South Carolina wanted a building that was already constructed.
The only available industrial space in the county is the former Renfro plant in Whitmre.
In fact, Newberry County Councilman Scott Cain says there are on available spec buildings up the I-26 corridor coming from Charleston.
Newberry County Economic Director Teresa Powers says the 14-foot ceiling height in the plant are too low for most businesses.
When an economic development project wants to locate somewhere they “want to do it yesterday,” said Cain.
“I would hate to build a chicken house with no contract to put chickens in it,” countered Councilman and retired farmer Bill Waldrop.
“How many crops have you put into the ground not knowing if the good Lord was going to send you rain,” was the reply from Council Chair Buddy Livingston.
The council members continued to debate if they should gamble the taxpayers money on a building that may or may not be sold.
Livingston reminded the group that in 2006 the decision was made to purchase the Mid-Carolina Commerce Park for $6 million or around $14,000 an acre.
Since then $2 million in infrastructure work has been done to the property at Highway 773 and I-26. Most of the $2 million in work was paid for through grants.
“Six years later we have absolutely nothing,” said Livingston. “If we do nothing we will have absolutely nothing.”
Waldrop suggested the property simply be made presentable.
“Right now it is a jungle,” said Waldrop. “Building a building is not a good idea.”
“You have to look at the cost of doing something or doing nothing,” said Chamber of Commerce Board Member George Routon.
And as the debate to even build the building continued, the debate how to pay for it also ensued.
Santee Cooper has agreed to finance up to 60 percent of the cost with a 2 percent loan. The county would only pay the interest rate on the loan for the first five years. If the building had not been purchased in the first five years the interest rate would be changed to the five year treasury bond rate, which would not be determined until that time.
The rest of the cost would be done through a general loan or an installment purchase.
Another option that was suggested by County Administrator Wayne Adams was for the county to borrow $2 million on public works facility that is being built.
This would free up the money allocated for the public works facility.
The money to fund the public works facility would be through an installment purchase loan
According to Adams, banks can lend money on a public works facility but not on a building that is not vital to the business of the county.
But another wrench thrown into the mix is a bill in the state legislature is looking a stopping counties from getting installment purchase loans and if the county went this route they would have to do so by April 30. Similar legislation was passed in 2006 that stopped school districts from getting the installment loans.
Cain told council that once The Observer broke the news that Newberry County was getting a loan for a spec building from Santee Cooper that Laurens County asked for loans to build two spec buildings.
The program being offered by electrical supplier, Santee Cooper, did not exist until it was discussed with county leaders around a table at Newberry Electric Cooperative, said Newberry Electric Cooperative CEO Keith Avery.
The council is batting around if they want to continue to include Santee Cooper in the project, to finance it in other ways or to simply not do the project.
Waldrop said he believes the building would be an easier sale if the electricity supplier had an interest in it and could help market the building.
The council said they would continue the discussion at Wednesday night’s council meeting. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Courthouse Annex on College Street.
At that time, council is likely to inform Alliance Consulting Engineers if they should proceed with finishing the design work for the project.
If council gives the go ahead it will take about a month to complete the design. The project would be bid and construction would start in mid-summer. The building would take about 4 to 6 months to complete.
The vote on how the spec build would be financed would not be held until the Feb. 20 meeting.