Business park plan may go to city ballot

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A proposal to turn 23 acres of old sewer lagoon into a business park might find its way to the April 1 municipal ballot.

Members of the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership are eyeing the First Street property as one of several sites they want to develop and then lease or sell parcels to businesses.

"At this time, the Connect to Craig the strategic plan we're following as a blueprint to economic development calls for the development of three separate business parks," said Wally Ralston, Economic Development Partnership director. "And of the three, the most immediately applicable site is this one because it's owned by the city, has low-cost development and high-speed Internet access."

He asked that the city donate the property to the Partnership.

"I think it's the right use for that property," Councilor Tom Gilchrist said.

The city charter calls for an election on any utility system property sold, although city attorney Sherman Romney said an election was not necessary in this case.

"The charter deals with the sale of city utility property and since this is no longer a part of the city's utility system, you have some flexibility," Romney said. "I think the city council can submit the question for election, but they don't have to if they determine the property has been abandoned as part of the water, sewer or other utility systems."

The site has been reclaimed and is available for use.

The property has been out of use as part of the city's utility system for several years, but council members remember a lawsuit and a recall effort that occurred the last time the city attempted to sell property purchased for water storage

and are leery.

"We need to look at an ordinance versus and election," Mayor Dave DeRose said. "I'm still a little scared. I think experience has made me a little squeamish. We should take it to an election anyway."

Romney and City Manager Jim Ferree have been asked to draft a question for the April 2003 ballot for the council to consider.

Ralston is working on a grant for the development of the site, which would include and environmental assessment, soils test and dirt work.

"We'll leave the site shovel ready, which is how we'll market it," he said.

He asked that the city and county also consider donating equipment and personnel to the project.

Determining how much of that work is done by city and county will be a "work in progress," Ralston said, "that we'll address as we go along."

He estimates the cost of development to be between 25 cents and 35 cents per square foot, but expects the project to come in below that cost. If an outside firm does all of the work, it could cost between $239,000 to $335,000 for site preparation.

"I think the actual figures would be considerably less," Ralston said.

An existing pond on the property would be left "for its intrinsic value to the property and because it actually adds value to the property,"

he said.

Getting the site shovel ready includes hauling fill dirt.

"It's not just a matter of equipment and time, it's getting quality fill and getting it compacted right to get the site ready for development," Ferree said.

Ralston said he has no plans to ask the city or county for any money unless it is matching funds for grants.

"I think we'll have to cross that bridge when we get to it," he said. "I don't think there would be any problem getting the money."

It is important, particularly for the grant process, that the Partnership has potential tenants before they take on the project, something Ralston said he has been working on. He said several businesses are interested in developing that site.

"The first thing we have to do is get some tenants thinking about the site and contracting to use it," he said. "There has been some interest in potential sites in Craig and it's a grand idea that we have something to show them."

The Partnership would administer the site with any funds from the sale or lease of property going back to the city.

Ralston said the Partnership would like to get started right

away on the project but would concur with any steps the council thought necessary in completing its due diligence.

And that means an election.

"I think we need to let the people tell us what they'd like to see us do with that 23 acres," DeRose said.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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