“Just in the past few months, the Heart of North Carolina MegaPark has made substantial progress in moving from concept to reality,” said Tim Lea, Chairman of the MegaPark’s Board of Directors and Moore County Commissioner.
“We have just cleared two critical hurdles, so we can now authorize a site assessment and feasibility study that will ultimately determine the direction the MegaPark’s development takes,” Lea said this week.
The MegaPark project is a collaborative effort of Moore and Montgomery Counties to develop a corporate / industrial park from 3,000 acres situated in both counties in the Interstate 73/74 corridor. As a regional economic development asset, the MegaPark has the potential to be a versatile and competitive location attracting a variety of businesses and industries that create new, high-quality jobs and stimulate new investment to increase local tax bases, and could benefit their neighbors in Richmond County.
“If it does get off the ground, by close proximity, we could see some employment benefits from it for our citizens and perhaps it will attract other businesses to Richmond County,” said Kenneth Robinette, chairman of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners. “We may one day see some benefit.”
In October, the Heart of North Carolina MegaPark, Inc., the 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation overseeing the project, secured Option to Purchase agreements from the eight landowners whose property collectively comprises the mega-site. These agreements give the nonprofit an option period of 10 years, after which the option can be renewed for one additional 10-year period if desired.
“We appreciate that the property owners have come together to participate in this project out of a shared desire to improve our area’s economic future,” said Jim Matheny, Board Vice Chairman and Montgomery County Commissioner. “They have embraced the MegaPark’s potential as a catalyst for greater prosperity and a better quality of life within our communities.” The landowners include former N.C. Lieutenant Governor Bob Jordan of Jordan Timberlands, Inc. in Mount Gilead, Bobby Myrick of Two Bobs LLC in Biscoe, and Gus Schad of Gus Schad Associates in Albemarle.
Earlier this month, the board also finalized and closed on a 10-year, $250,000 loan with First Bank, in which First Bank is providing $150,000 as the primary lender, and Moore County Partners in Progress (PIP) and Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC) are each providing $50,000 as participant lenders. The MegaPark nonprofit has purchased a portion of the mega-site, specifically a 92.5-acre parcel in Montgomery County that was owned by Jordan Timberlands, Inc., to serve as collateral for the loan.
Chairman Lea expressed appreciation to John May, board member and attorney with Robbins May & Rich LLP in Pinehurst, for his integral role working with the landowners to finalize and execute the Option agreements as well as with First Bank to close the loan. “John’s expertise has been invaluable to the board, and his persistence has been absolutely crucial to the progress made over the last several months,” said Lea.
The loan funds supplement the $100,000 Economic Development Administration Planning Grant award Congressman Larry Kissell announced in September. The grant will be used to cover the costs of the site assessment and feasibility study phase of the project, and the loan funds are available for the next phase of creating the Park’s economic development strategy, master site plan, and marketing brand for promoting the park long-term.
“Acquiring the funding needed for any project is always the tricky part, but I think we have a solid plan that warrants confidence in our ability to bring the MegaPark to fruition,” said Pat Corso, Executive Director of Moore County Partners in Progress. “The MegaPark Board realizes the importance of proceeding deliberately and steadily to lay the park’s groundwork that will serve the citizens for many years to come. These funds will enable us to engage experienced and innovative people in our development process to maximize the park’s capacity for long-term success.”
Although these steps have been taking to grow the MegaPark idea, some officials would rather wait and see it come to fruition before praising the progress. Some remain optimistic as they wait.
“There may be some potential for businesses, either supporting or new business to locate in Richmond County based on the close proximity to our northern border,” said Richmond County Manager and Economic Development Director Rick Sago. “There is also the potential for employment opportunities for our citizens, assuming businesses do eventually locate in the new park.”
Hobbs Upchurch & Associates P.A., an engineering and planning firm in Southern Pines, will soon begin the comprehensive assessment of the MegaPark’s physical attributes. This assessment will identify the location and capacity of existing infrastructure on and near the site, and analyze existing transportation routes and the site’s key access points from major roadways. An Aberdeen Carolina & Western rail line is currently located along Spies Road, which is the MegaPark’s northern boundary, and the potential to extend rail service throughout the site will also be evaluated.
Hobbs Upchurch has subcontracted with Sanford Holshouser Economic Development Consulting of Raleigh to complete the feasibility study to determine if the MegaPark can be a viable, competitive development tool that complements the region’s demographic profile and workforce assets.
Sanford Holshouser will conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis to identify the MegaPark’s assets and challenges. From the SWOT Analysis, the firm will identify the types of industries that could take advantage of the MegaPark’s unique strengths and assets; assess the site’s competitive position relative to other existing mega-sites; and determine how to position the park for an effective marketing strategy that attracts the targeted industries.
All of the data collected from the site assessment and feasibility study will be used to design the most advantageous concept for the park that enhances the region’s business recruitment and expansion efforts.
“The MegaPark is a concerted effort by many partners to level the playing field and help our rural communities overcome some of the competitive disadvantages they face in economic development,” said Ashley Cagle, Executive Director of Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation. “This project represents a long-term commitment to revitalizing and sustaining local economies and investing in a brighter future for rural North Carolina.”
For more information on the NC MegaPark call Pat Corso, Moore County Partners in Progress, at 910-246-0311 or Ashley Cagle, Montgomery County Economic Development Corp. at 910-572-2575.