Multi-million dollar land deal could bring business, industry to Stark County

Six area foundations aiming to invest in the community have formed a partnership to purchase the former County Farm in an effort to lure new businesses and jobs to the area.

Amy L. Knapp
Independent staff writer
August 22. 2016 6:41PM

NAVARRE, OH—A group of local foundations aimed at luring business to the area and stimulating the economy have joined forces to purchase the bulk of the former Stark County Farm property.

The public-private partnership is funded by Stark Board of Trade, a non-profit created by Stark Community Foundation, Hoover Foundation, Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Massillon Development Foundation, DeHoff Family Foundation and the Gessner Family Foundation.

The group has purchased 327-acres of the farm for $2.25 million from local businessman Guy Cecchini, who has owned the land since 2008 when the Stark County Commissioners auctioned the property. At the time, another 40 acres farmland was purchased by a local farmer to serve as a buffer to future development of the vacant property.

The group hopes to spur growth by turning the site into a Class A industrial park.

Generally, Class A industrial sites have the topsoil removed and are graded to provide a level building pad. These types of sites also have pre-engineered off-site drainage detention basins and storm sewers eliminating the need for any on-site drainage detention, and the sites have extra wide industrial strength roadways allowing for a substantial savings at the time of construction and saving time because construction of footers can start when the building permit is issued, regardless of the time of year. Also, Site and building covenants provide standards to ensure quality buildings will be constructed and maintained in the park.

Robert DeHoff, chairman of DeHoff Development Co., had being eyeing the property for some time.

“This property is a very unique site in Northeast Ohio because of its size and the fact that it could accommodate a very large user,” he said. “It is served by rail on the west and north as well as the intermodal facility.  It's ideally located.”

DeHoff said a 2.6 million-square-foot structure could fit on the land.

Also, the site has access to utilities, including a large Dominion gas line and electric from First Energy. Navarre also is set to begin construction of a new water tower and plant that will accommodate additional customers.

Prime property

Also known as Prospect Industrial Park, the undeveloped land in the 7000 block of Fohl Road SW was once owned by the county for nearly 35 years. It had long been considered a desirable location.

The Independent reported in 2011 that the land has been considered for everything from an airport to a prison to a casino because of its good location near a highway, rail lines and other utilities. Though leased for farming in 1985, county officials pitched the land as a potential site for a plant to both American and foreign auto makers.

In 1989, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons investigated the site for a correctional facility. It has also been considered as a possible site for a national cemetery, a minor league baseball stadium and a soft-coal research technology center, among other things, according to past news stories about the property.

The investors do not have any occupants lined up yet, DeHoff said. Site preparation will begin soon, and recruitment of businesses to locate in the park also will get underway.

During the past six months, DeHoff said, the investment group has worked to make sure that everything was completed before the land purchase deal closed.

“We have been developing industrial properties over 40 years and we have learned that we need to be as flexible as possible in the marketplace,” he said. “We want to make the park as attractive (to all businesses) from large to small.”

Unlike residential and retail development, industrial development often requires waiting for a user, DeHoff said.

“Whether a company wants to expand or a new company wants to come to the community it's hard to predict, but it is important to have the sites ready and available and in this day and age, industry doesn't want to wait to build,” he said.

Learning from the past

Realizing the land’s potential, DeHoff approached Stark Community Foundation regarding his idea to collaborate on making a long-term investment in Stark County, modeled after the Mills Business Park in Canton. The 140-acre business park is home to a number of companies, including Medline Industries, G.E. Oil and Gas and Old Dominion Freightline.

Momentum grew and other foundations joined the effort.

The Stark Board of Trade was created to assist in attracting businesses and generate opportunities for residents similar to the Canton Board of Trade 130 years ago.

In 1885, a group of community leaders established the Canton Board of Trade to bring businesses and jobs to Canton. The group attracted Timken Roller Bearing, Diebold Safe and Lock Co. and Dueber Hampden Watchworks to the city.

According to information provided to DeHoff by the Wm. McKinley Presidential Library & Museum, prominent Canton businessmen realized the growing industrial base in the city benefited all aspects of the greater economy.

The group worked to lure business with financial incentives.

Many companies such as Cleveland Axle Manufacturing, United Steel Company and Carnahan Tin Plate and Sheet Company came to Canton. The city saw an explosion in population. Between 1880 and 1909, the population jumped from 12,258 people to 45,000.

“The Canton Board of Trade decided to take positive action to be proactive to bring jobs to the community and were successful,” DeHoff said. “When you look back at what our forefathers did it is inspiring to say, ’what can we be doing in 2016 that would replicate what they did some 150 years ago.’”

The former County Farm investment continues to advance the missions of all of the organizations involved, DeHoff noted.

“It came from discussion with local foundations about investing in the community rather than having investments outside of Stark County,” he said. “We have the opportunity to invest within our community and still accomplish their missions. The foundations have invested in jobs and employers.

“It’s a long-term investment that the local foundation was willing to take on.”

New jobs a goal

Ray Hexamer, director of the Massillon Development Foundation, said the partnership was a natural next step for the foundation.

The access road to the park runs through the MDF’s Gene Boerner NEO COM Commerce Park.

“It’s a great opportunity for Stark County,” Hexamer said. “It will be one of the largest single pieces of property in Northeast Ohio that is zoned industrial. If we can secure that asset to attract business, or help those here that want to expand, it adds jobs.

“No matter where you are in Stark County, we all benefit from that.”

With the MDF’s two industrial parks adjacent to the land, the partnership allows them to continue what they started there, he said.

Navarre Mayor Bob Benson is excited investors took interest in the property.

For years, Benson and members of the Perry Township-Navarre Joint Economic Development District have tried to develop the land. When the commissioners opted to auction the nearly 400 acres bordered on the south by Fohl Road, and on the east and north by the Wheeling & Lake Erie railroad tracks in 2008, Cecchini purchased a portion of the land for $1.4 million.

Previous to 2007, the land was divided in Perry Township, Bethlehem Township and Navarre. In 2007, Perry and Navarre agreed to an expedited annexation of 165 acres of the farm to the village in an effort to block Massillon’s attempt to annex the same portion.

Under the annexation agreement, Perry Township would continue to receive property taxes and Navarre would earn income tax if it was ever developed.

The JEDD secured $3.5 million in state grants, including a $1.1 million Job Ready Site Grant from the Ohio Department of Commerce and $2.4 million from the state’s Roadwork Development Account to construct a bridge connecting Sterilite Drive SE, off Navare Road, with the parcel. The road was extended a quarter of a mile and a 250-foot bridge allows access to the park over the railroad tracks. The bridge was completed in 2011.

Job Ready Site grants were developed to bolster the state’s inventory of available locations served by utility and transportation infrastructure. The sites are kept ready for future business prospects seeking the locations for new or expanded operations.

The $1.1. million grant expires in October. State Rep. Kirk Schuring, DeHoff said, has been instrumental in helping keep the grant active. The grant money will be used for infrastructure projects.

Officials believe potential tenants in the industrial park could be new businesses, businesses wanting to expand their operations and businesses looking to relocate to the area.

Benson hopes new high-paying jobs will be on the horizon with any businesses that may come.

“This was the purpose of the JEDD when we started 20 years ago, to generate jobs in the area not just in Perry and Navarre but for the northeast area,” he said. “I knew years ago to secure the future of Navarre I had to look to that property to be developed to bring income to the village, bring jobs and help build financial stability of the village.”

Article reprinted with permission, Copyright 2016, Repository, Some rights reserved.

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