TEMPERANCE - Bedford Township took its first solid step toward making a third industrial park a reality last week, plunking down $7,600 in earnest money on its share of 140 acres of farmland that it wants to jointly develop with neighboring Erie Township.
The two townships have until Feb. 15 to get together and work out the terms of a purchase agreement with the Cousino family, which agreed last year to sell the land to them for $9,500 an acre. The family continues to solicit offers for an adjacent 260 acres.
Pearl Albert-Green, the chairwoman of Bedford Township's Economic Development Commission, urged the newly elected board to actively get behind the project, indicating that "several companies" - and more than 150 jobs - are waiting in the wings.
"We've latched onto a couple of very viable clients for this industrial park," she said, declining a later request to identify them.
Larry Hofmann, who handles commercial loans with Monroe Bank & Trust, said the local institution has approved a loan for more than $2.3 million if the two townships opt to proceed with the joint project. The amount would be far more than the land's $1.33 million selling price, but could be used to underwrite the start of improvements.
If the project proceeds, the note would be a one-year, interest-only loan that would serve as a bridge until the park could be developed and income from the land began to be realized. At that point, "longer-term financing could be arranged," Mr. Hofmann said.
The purchase price, which was negotiated last year by former Erie Township Supervisor Dan Bonkoski, could expire by Feb. 15, leaving scant time for local officials to work out the details of their partnership.
"One of the key problems for this whole project is infrastructure," explained new Erie Township Supervisor Paul Mikels. "It's difficult for a private company to come in and build their plant and have to construct all of the infrastructure as well." Mr. Mikels said that he believes there is enough interest in the park on the state level that the Michigan Economic Development Corp. or another state entity might help with grants or low-interest loans.
"Once the infrastructure is available, there are several companies that are interested," the Erie Township supervisor said, indicating that auto parts suppliers that service DaimlerChrysler's Jeep plant a few miles south would be prime targets for relocation to the park.
"If we don't proceed now, we'll be behind the curve," Mr. Mikels said. "Mexico is saying 'Come on down' to these companies. I hope we have enough vision to keep area businesses in our area."
Mr. Mikels said he believes the two townships, when they meet jointly, should consider forming a third entity that would be responsible for developing the Erie/Bedford Industrial Park. He said his board expected Bedford Township to assume its share of the financial responsibility for the purchase, and that they would share proportionally in any additional tax revenues that result from the park's development. About 62 percent of the land is in Erie Township, and 38 percent in Bedford Township.
"I think this is a good idea. I don't think we can lose any money," new Bedford Township Supervisor Walt Wilburn said. "I think it would be a good for us. We're taking a chance, but we're not going to be doing it recklessly."
Mr. Wilburn said he believes that the industrial park could draw large-scale manufacturers because it is served by Consumer's Power, whose commercial rates for large commercial electricity users are cheaper than those of FirstEnergy south of the border.
"The timing for this is probably better than it's ever been," said Bedford Township Trustee Rick Steiner, who worked on the project as part of the township's Economic Development Commission. "Granted, the economics are average, but with some good support this is something we have to look very favorably at. I think we need to continue, to start to put some of the ducks in a row."
Mrs. Albert-Green talked about the time more than two decades ago when, as supervisor in Bedford Township, she convinced her fellow board members to proceed with the Banner Oak and Bedford industrial parks.
"It's kind of scary when you think about going to a bank and borrowing a lot of money and putting the taxpayers in debt. But we also have to remember that we have collateral for this debt, and that's the land," she said. "I think it's important to note that the price we would be paying - $9,500 an acre - is less than the $10,000 an acre Bedford Township paid for first [industrial] park. It really was kind of scary to take that first step, but we did it, and good things happened."