PILOT delayed for Ace Bayou

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An environmental examination at the old Sanford pencil factory site has postponed Lewisburg's approval of a tax deal for Ace Bayou, but the plant manager says a lease lets the company proceed as planned.

"We've been manufacturing there since Feb. 1," Ace Bayou Plant Manager Will Wilson said Tuesday while discussing implications from the city's monthly Industrial Development Board meeting in City Hall on Monday.

It's anticipated that Newell Rubbermaid, parent company of Sanford, would provide an environmental assessment this week to Ace Bayou, the manufacturer of game chairs and carpet-covered cat furniture, suitable for clawing and hiding. Sanford announced on Veterans Day 2008 that it was closing the pencil factory, shucking 350 jobs here.

Ace Bayou promised to create new jobs here when it was authorized for a property tax break through a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes Agreement (PILOT). The manufacturer has hired 25-50 people and anticipates continued growth through the summer, Wilson said.

The company's plan to buy Sanford's property was delayed by Newell Rubbermaid because it hadn't provided the environmental assessment and Wilson said he and his employer don't know what's caused the environmental problem.

Meanwhile, the city's Industrial Development Board met on Monday in City Hall where IDB Chairman Eddie Wiles told the panel, "The Phase II Environmental Assessment didn't come back clean."

Lewisburg has an interest in the private business deal because Ace Bayou has been authorized for a PILOT Agreement, which places the property's deed with local government.

"Once you become a part of the deed, you become responsible," City Attorney Steve Broadway advised the IDB.

To avoid environmental cleanup costs, the IDB voted to refrain from finalizing the PILOT.

Discussion among the board members indicated the panelists' willingness to address the issue again when they meet in regular session on the first Monday of May.

Board member Arnold Lilly made the motion for the IDB to issue a statement that in light of the environmental circumstances the Board is reluctant to sign a document that would lead to a tax break for Ace Bayou.

The vote was unanimous.

There was no discussion Monday about the nature of the environmental situation at the old pencil factory site.

Nor was there discussion about what the delay would do to Ace Bayou's purchase of the old Sanford factory, although even in routine land-use rezoning cases, a buyer usually does not make a purchase until the land clears the government panel.

However, Lewisburg Industrial Development Director Greg Lowe reported he spoke on Monday morning with Bob Binkley, an attorney with offices on East Commerce Street, who's served as city attorney and the IDB attorney.

"It's more of a hiccup than a bump in the road," Lowe said, basing his conclusion regarding the environmental situation on conversation with Binkley.

Sanford "was not mentioned," during his discussion with Binkley, Lowe reported Monday.

Wiles "thought the initial closing date was going to be on March 31," the IDB chairman said.

As for the remediation of whatever environmental issue that caused the "hiccup," Wilson said, Newell Rubbermaid is "the property owner," Wilson said.

"Any liability -- if anything requires remediation -- would be their responsibility," Wilson said.

In other reports to the IDB on Monday, Lowe said Hawk Converting, a new business created by relatives in the local family business, Lewisburg Printing, was nearing the purchase of a building to start its operation.

That's to grow a number of local jobs, but well under the 100-200 jobs anticipated at Ace Bayou's new operation.