[Update: The New Hanover County commissioners unanimously approved the first land sale at Blue Clay Business Park, initiating an upset bid process, on Feb. 6. Francini plans to build 100,000 square feet of import distribution warehouse space, as well as a showroom for its products.]
NEW HANOVER COUNTY — On Monday commissioners will consider selling land in a northern area of the county, with the option for the buyer to add on more parcels in the future.
Staff, along with Wilmington Business Development, are recommending the board accept an offer from LAS Properties, LLC, an affiliate of Francini, Inc., for the purchase of 6.25 acres in the Blue Clay Business Park, located 4.5 miles from I-40.
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Francini is an importer and distributor of natural stone — granite, marble, quartz, vetrite, soapstone, forte porcelain, limestone and more — with a location on Landmark Drive in Wilmington.
The company, founded in 1994, is headquartered in California with two locations out west, and others in Salt Lake City, Boise, Denver, and Houston, as well as two other North Carolina spots in Kernersville and Raleigh.
The move would mark the county-owned park’s first tenant. MCO Transport looked to purchase 12 acres in August, according to the Wilmington Business Journal; however, the sale never came to fruition.
Rather than lease it out, the county intends to sell off pieces of the 120 acres in the park.
If approved in Monday’s vote, the deal would come with a four-year option for Francini to purchase 7.06 more acres.
“The county provided the option to this purchaser to allow them the ability to expand their business further in the park through a Phase II expansion that is on a different timeline than their Phase I of expansion,” county spokesperson Jessica Loeper explained. “This was needed due to the restrictive covenants that are in place for the business park, specifically the timeline requirements to begin construction once the property is purchased.”
Before any work can begin, buyers of land must submit a concept plan to a county review board — comprising the county manager, chief strategy officer, chief facilities and maintenance officer, planning director, and CEO of Wilmington Business Development. Once approved, work is required to start within 12 months with complete build-out done in two years from the date of purchase.
The land is being sold for $40,000 per acre, totaling $250,000 for the initial buy.
This offer would require the county to pursue an upset bid. A 10-day process is required by general statute for county-owned property sales.
It requires the buyer to deposit 5% of the bid, or $12,500, when the offer is accepted. After signing a purchase contract, the buyer has 90 days to back out and be refunded the earnest money.
Once notice of the bid process goes out, any person may offer a different price within 10 days, by at least 10% of the first $1,000 and 5% of the remainder. If no further qualifying bids are received, the staff will suggest accepting the initial proposal.
At this time, it’s unclear what Francini will do with the property, though Loeper confirmed it will include a building and associated parking to expand local operations.
A Francini employee referred Port City Daily to Wilmington Business Development for further information; however, a response for comment was not returned by press.
Construction of the Blue Clay Business Park was prompted by WBD in 2021. The nonprofit group works with local government officials, community leaders, and business professionals to draw in economic growth. WBD CEO Scott Satterfiled told PCD two years ago it had been receiving inquiries from companies to use the land, but needed the proper infrastructure before any entity could locate there.
In 2021, New Hanover County dedicated $3.6 million of its $45 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for installation of water and sewer at the Blue Clay Business Park.
The construction of the infrastructure has yet to be bid out for contract. The estimated budget is $2.3 million. According to internal county emails, the goal is for the work to be completed by fall.
Letters sent to New Hanover County from Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Jan. 20 indicate the capacity at the business park will equal 101,090 gallons per day of water and 88,880 gallons per day of sewage.
There are 85 developable acres available in the industrially zoned district, and at full build-out could support 875,000 square feet of facilities. In November, the county hired Rooms Farm Service for $5,500 to bush hog the property and make it more attractive to potential tenants.
Blue Clay Business Park is one of a few projects fostering expected growth in the Port City. While the county’s population grew 10% over the last decade, the NCDOC Division of Labor and Economic Analysis stats show the total workforce grew by 12% in the same period — from 107,987 to 120,839, according to the NHC’s 2022 economic mobility plan. It also showed more than 41,000 workers commute daily into New Hanover County from neighboring towns.
“New Hanover County also is the only county in North Carolina that has both interstate highways and rail connecting to its port and airport assets, as well as Intracoastal Waterway barge access. Consequently, increasing import/export markets provide opportunities for New Hanover County to recruit companies in the growing trade sectors described above,” the report states.
Commissioners approved a 50-acre property donation from Sidbury Land and Timber in October for the foundation of another business park, this one on Holly Shelter Road — less than 5 miles from Blue Clay. Water and sewer will be run to the property by 2026 and access roads will be constructed three years after that.
Another $145,000 was allocated in October toward a master plan study for the future Holly Shelter park. The county has the option to purchase up to 200 additional acres, 50-acre parcels at a time.
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