Developers are breathing new life into an old plan aimed at bringing new jobs and economic development to La Plata County.
As La Plata County commissioners were briefed in a work session Thursday about plans to resurrect a proposed business park at the airport, Bobby Lieb, chairman of the board of commissioners, called it a blast from the past.
Lieb was project manager for the proposed development before running for county commissioner in 2010.
The plan for a business park development near the Durango-La Plata County Airport stalled a few years ago as real estate markets here and around the nation were tanking. At the time, developers had already spent millions of dollars on planning and legal work.
Now consultants and executives for Durango Commercial Development LLC, which is a partnership of Bodo Industrial Park developer Durango Industrial Development Foundation and Trimble Crossing developer La Plata Beneficial Development, say it is time to pick up the project again for the sake of the countys future.
Estimated growth trends in the county, alongside projected declines in natural-gas and oil industry work, mean more space for business will be crucial for ensuring economic health here, said Ann Christensen, a principal of DHM Design consulting firm.
We really need somewhere for (local and new) businesses to grow and thrive for a balanced economy, Christensen said. By planning ahead, we can have this ready for them.
The business park would sit in the Florida River valley along County Road 309 on a 184-acre parcel northwest of the airport. About 108 acres of the property is developable, Christensen said, and project officials hope the development ultimately will create as much as 1.3 million square feet of commercial and light industrial space for businesses.
At full build-out, which could take decades, the added space for businesses could amount to 1,500 new jobs in the county, she said.
But before construction could begin, a long process filled with challenges and hurdles is likely, officials said.
County Attorney Sheryl Rogers said it could take months for the project to get through state and local negotiations and approvals. She estimated it would be about a year before a more mature proposal would face public comment. A project like this might even end up in local voters hands through a ballot referendum before it could be built, she said.
Among the challenges developers and government officials will have to tackle in the months ahead are decisions about how to address infrastructure needs associated with the project. Plans for access roads, traffic impacts, water delivery and sewer systems will have to pass muster.
Developers also are asking for flexibility for the project. They dont want to build the business park in predefined phases. Instead, they hope to build as demand arises and potential tenants come to the table expressing their needs.
Commissioner Kellie Hotter said she thought it a good approach given the unpredictable nature of commercial development.
Christensen estimated it could be years out before the first tenants arrive on the scene with specific requests. In the meantime, a gravel-extraction operation on the property would continue, she said.
Hotter said the early talks this week are a positive move for the community.
This community really needs a business park, she said.
It is too early to tell if the current proposal will bring economic solutions for the county, though, she said. But potential exists for a business park development to help link local economic development and employer-recruitment efforts, she said.
Like all projects, this one will rise or fall on its own merits, Hotter said.
Commissioner Wally White offered a less optimistic view, saying this is a risky time to be considering something like this.
White questioned the project proposals timing because the county is working to rewrite its land-use codes. He said he also is concerned about location, access and infrastructure issues surrounding the project. And he suggested a possible conflict of interest involving fellow commissioner Lieb. In addition to Liebs previous involvement in the project, his father, former County Commissioner Bob Lieb Sr., is on the Durango Commercial Development management team.
The timing is questionable, White said.
Bobby Lieb said Thursday he will not recuse himself from voting on the proposal in the coming months.
I do not have a conflict of interest, and the county attorney has verified that, he said. It was my previous employer, so its obvious I have a degree of bias toward the project and economic development.
Lieb went on to say that all elected (officials) have interests and passions, but because those exist does not mean we should recuse ourselves from voting.
I do find myself in a precarious position because I want to see the project succeed, but I have a duty to uphold the statutes, codes and policies of the county and I intend to do that, he said.