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Iron Horse Property Purchase Nearing Completion

A tract of land off N.C. 211 in Aberdeen has long been identified as a site for industrial development. The Moore County Economic Development Partnership plans to purchase and prepare the 73-acre property called Iron Horse Industrial Park.

“It has all of the key infrastructure needed to be developed as a heavy industrial site,” said Natalie Hawkins, executive director of MCEDP. “So that’s why it’s so attractive and why we’ve put so much effort into it.”

The site has rail access, natural gas and municipal sewer and water utilities. Aberdeen Mayor Robbie Farrell previously called it a “gold mine” waiting for development.

“This is a situation where, in my personal opinion, if the public sector makes an initial investment in the property, in this site, that it will attract the capital investment and the jobs that will far outweigh the public investment that’s needed,” Hawkins said.

“When we submit the site to potential clients, they need shovel-ready. They have very tight timelines of when they need to have their facilities operational. And they don’t have time to design a road, build a road, clear the land, grade the land, get the permits and do the environmental studies. They don’t have the time in their schedule to do that.

“So what we’re trying to do is what economic development agencies — across the state of North Carolina and the United States, quite frankly — are doing is to work on getting sites more shovel ready or pad ready in order to meet the accelerated timelines that the private sector’s demand.”

In 2021, Hawkins said there were 11 business leads for the property, but MCEDP could not respond to five of them because of companies’ specific needs. In 2022, that increased to 25 leads, but her organization could not meet the needs of nine.

Site History

The park used to consist of 128 acres, but the Aberdeen Coca-Cola Bottling Co. purchased 56 acres previously owned by the Aberdeen and Rockfish Railroad Co. in 2022. The bottling company’s property fronts Carolina Road, and Iron Horse sits behind it.

Aberdeen Coca-Cola spokesperson Mark Moon said in an email to The Pilot that the company is “actively engaged in the planning stages” for developing the property.

The Three Rivers Land Trust holds the Iron Horse property. Hawkins said it was donated to the Sandhills Area Land Trust before it merged with Three Rivers as a “business development lot” with the intention of being sold.

Executing Sale and Site Preparation

The MCEDP plans to buy and prepare the property by building an access road and clearing and grading the site — a project expected to cost just under $2 million.

The property is contracted at $584,000. Hawkins said the clearing and grading are estimated at $280,000, the road at $1.1 million and other fees at about $30,000. To pay for the project, the MCEDP got funding from six sources.

A grant from the N.C. Railroad Co., totaling $168,000, would cover land clearing and grading. Hawkins hopes work will begin early next year if the sale closes in December. She expects about $48,000 from timber sales after clearing the property to put back into preparation.

MCEDP also received a grant from North Carolina’s Southeast, the regional economic development group, for $241,300 to pay for part of the road costs.

The MCEDP has support from the county and the town of Aberdeen to make the property desirable. The county’s Board of Commissioners and the Aberdeen Board of Commissioners each approved loaning $200,000 at a 4 percent interest rate to be repaid in 15 years to the MCEDP to purchase the land.

The remaining funding is from the 2022 state budget reappropriated for this year. The roughly $1.1 million is planned to cover the rest of the road work and some of the land purchase.

“I am extremely pleased that our delegation has been able to bring significant funding from the short session budget to benefit every citizen of Moore County,” State Sen. Tom McInnis previously said. “We will continue to work in Raleigh to bring economic progress to every corner of Moore County. The budget is very strong for our teachers and state employees as well as our retirees. The future for our citizens continues to be very bright as new electric battery and car plants sprout up around us. I am honored to represent Moore County in the NC Senate.”

Hawkins emphasized that support from the county and town commissioners and help from McInnis to secure state funding was invaluable. She said the project would likely not go forward without it.

An access road is the “big ticket item.” With a route secured, the road would connect to N.C. 211, bypassing wetlands and connecting directly with what is expected to become a four-lane highway.

The MCEDP is working with the state Department of Transportation to design the road and obtain permits to cross a Piedmont Natural Gas line and a section of the Aberdeen and Rockfish Railroad Co. rail line.

She said the road could be constructed as soon as 12 to 18 months from now.

The last piece to finalize is a land swap between the town and Aberdeen Coca-Cola. Two one-acre parcels are along the main boundary line of Iron Horse and Aberdeen Coca-Cola. The bottling company owns the parcel over the line on the Iron Horse side, and the town owns the other. Hawkins said the land swap is needed to build the road over a portion of the one-acre parcel on the Iron Horse side.

For the sale to go through, Hawkins said her organization must meet five contingencies: receiving funding from all sources, a 60-foot right-of-way dedication to build the road, approval to cross the railroad tracks and gas line and finalizing the one-acre land swap.

Hawkins said most contingencies have been met or scheduled for approval in November. MCEDP has also completed “all due diligence” before working on the site, including getting the “all clear” from environmental studies, an endangered species report and a historical, cultural and archeological report.

Site Ideas

The property is large enough to fit a 600,000-square-foot building, which would be one of the largest structures in Moore County.

“So we have asked for consultants (and) engineers to lay out what it could look like with multiple buildings on the site — because it would be our strong preference to actually subdivide it and get multiple buildings on there.”

One stipulation of receiving the N.C. Railroad grant is for her organization to choose a business that uses the rail.

Hawkins also wants to find a business that “fits” in Moore County. She’d like to see businesses similar to Reliance Packaging, a plastics manufacturer, in Aberdeen. She said the MCEDP would like to “build upon” the county’s existing strengths. The site would suit advanced manufacturing companies in the golf and defense markets or biotechnology.

Looking Forward

Hawkins hopes to use the success of this property “as a springboard to demonstrate to the community there are benefits of public investment in business parks.”

“In a perfect world,” Hawkins said she would like to see the property subdivided and sold for a profit to reinvest in Moore County to develop more business parks. But the future sale or leasing of the property would depend on what a company wants.

Hawkins envisions having business parks throughout the county, naming Robbins, Carthage, Vass and Pinebluff as possible locations. She said these parks would be smaller in scale.

She gave the example of an office with warehouse space in the back for a “light” operation. She said between 25,000 and 50,000 square feet is the “sweet spot,” according to business leads, including existing ones looking to expand.

“We are continuously being approached by existing Moore County businesses that want to expand,” Hawkins said. “We’re trying to help our existing businesses, too.

“That’s our number one priority — to help them be successful. And so I think we need some space. We need some sites.”

(Original article by Ana Risano, The Pilot)


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