Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
Rowan County commissioners voted Monday to sell more than 33 acres at Summit Corporate Center to a Charlotte company at a cut-rate price while blasting the four-year-old agreement that allowed the deal to go through.
The Keith Corp. will buy two parcels in the county-owned industrial park at Interstate 85 and Julian Road at a price ranging from $25,000 to $28,500 per acre ó well below market value.
And the county will pay Keith Corp. a 10 percent fee for selling the property to itself.Approval of the deal split the board. Chairman Arnold Chamberlain, Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell and Commissioner Jon Barber voted in favor of the sale, while commissioners Tina Hall and Jim Sides opposed it.
Hall said the idea of effectively giving the company a 10 percent discount on the land is an insult to the county.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “I can’t vote for it.”
Even commissioners who voted for the sale grumbled about the earlier agreement that allowed it and the county’s involvement in the 550 acre park, which was intended to bring industry and thousands of jobs to Rowan. The park remains largely vacant.
Commissioners said the county shouldn’t be in the real estate business.
And they were particularly critical of the contract.
“We hate the way this was done,” Chairman Arnold Chamberlain said, laying the blame on former County Manager Tim Russell, although he didn’t name him.
Chamberlain said the contract was handled in “a less than kosher manner,” and said he hopes the board will never approve a contract like it again.At a Nov. 16, 2004 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved a deal giving Keith Corp. options on property in the industrial park, but left details of the agreement to be worked out at a later time.
Two of the commissioners ó Leda Belk and Gus Andrews, who was chairman at the time ó left the board in December 2004 following the November elections.
The finalized contract was never presented to the board. Three months later, on Feb. 7, 2005, Chairman Frank Tadlock signed the contract.
Chamberlain and Sides, who joined the board in December 2004, weren’t aware of the contract.
On the advice of County Attorney Jay Dees, the board held a public hearing on the option agreement Monday night. Dees said a hearing was required and had not previously been held.
Rod Whedbee, a businessman and chairman of the Rowan Property Alliance, questioned the propriety of the county being in the real estate business and competing with private business and landowners.Whedbee, the lone speaker at the hearing, said the county shouldn’t own any real estate other than that needed for public buildings and facilities.
Sides and Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell agreed with Whedbee. Mitchell said he hopes he lives long enough to “see the day when the county doesn’t own any property in Summit Corporate Center.”
Mitchell is the lone remaining commissioner from the board that first signed a marketing deal with Keith Corp. in 2004. Commissioners selected Keith Corp. based on the company’s success in marketing and providing build-to-suit projects.
In October 2004, Keith Corp. announced plans to build a 60,650-square-foot shell building and a 360,000-square-foot building suitable for a distribution center. Neither building was constructed.
Keith bought a parcel in Summit previously and constructed a building that is now leased to Square D.
Several months ago, commissioners declined to renew the marketing and option agreements with Keith Corp.
Barber called the sale approved Monday a complex issue and recalled that he previously voted against the sale of property in Speedway Business Park, although the offer was at the price listed by the county.
Barber said he regrets that vote and said the Keith Corp. agreement was done in good faith regardless of whether proper protocol was followed.
“We are business-friendly,” Barber said.
Under the agreement approved Monday, Keith Corp. has two years to erect buildings. If the company doesn’t fulfill its obligation, the county can buy the property back at the original sale price.
Keith Corp. cannot sell the property to a third party.
The board agreed to add a stipulation that if the county buys back the property, the price will reflect a 10 percent discount.
Commissioners have recently indicated they will likely rely on the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission to market Summit Corporate Center.