Chester County leaders predict site improvements will attract industry

GREAT FALLS -- A once controversial yet undeveloped industrial park is getting another look from Chester County leaders.

But this time, nobody's fighting about it, and leaders agree the site needs a facelift.

County Councilman Archie Lucas brought up the S.C. 99 industrial park site at a recent council meeting. Located across the street from Mount Nebo Church, the 400-acre site sits undeveloped along the highway between Great Falls and Fort Lawn.

"Absolutely nothing has been done with it," said Lucas, who, along with former supervisor Johnny Weir, made a deal for the land in 2001 that was touted as a project destined to bring industry and jobs to the county.

Lucas' chief complaint is that while the county contains more than 6,000 acres of available industrial land, most of it doesn't belong to the county.

The county-owned S.C. 99 site doesn't resemble an industrial park, Lucas said, although it has the needed infrastructure, including a water line, fiber optics and natural gas.

"I think we owe it to the people of this county to really promote this particular site," Lucas said during the meeting. "This is our property, and we need to really push it."

Part of that push means sprucing up the property: Carving out an entrance and placing a sign that indicates the land is for industry. Lucas also wants the county to clear the cedar trees that he said block the view of the land.

Some people have said they want to cut hay or hunt on the land.

"That's not what it was purchased for," Lucas said.

The purchase of the industrial site erupted into a controversy soon after Lucas and Weir made a deal with the property owner in 2001.

Other council members complained that they were left in the dark. Some leaders and residents believed the money could have been better spent.

In 2002, when the council voted 4-3 to spend $1.3 million on the land to build the park, one resident told leaders: "This is not a field of dreams. If you build it, no one is going to come."

The land remains empty. Lucas said the site hasn't been improved in more than five years.

But now, local leaders are working with the county's economic development office to enhance the property.

Officials hope to "make it look like something" for companies to check out, said County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey.

"We show it every time we get a chance," he said. "It's just so far off the beaten path."

And if the county cleans up the site?

"They just won't be going in and looking at pasture," Roddey said of potential industrial customers. "They're still gonna get a pasture when they go in there, but they're gonna have a road to the pasture."

Leaders hope a sign will be added to the site, letting those passing by know the land is for an industrial park. They said several companies have looked at the site.

"There are companies out there that want to be away from the mainstream," said County Councilman Joe Branham. "And you know it has its value. It has its place if you can find the right company that wants to do that."

Unlike the council six years ago, the current leadership isn't divided over the project. Since they have the land, leaders said, they might as well do what they can with it.

"We're not going to spend a whole lot of money down there," Branham said. "It's not a bad thing to have."