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EDC director confident project is of ‘high quality’

A proposed big box development featuring a Home Depot and Super Wal-Mart as anchor stores would bring a $45 million investment to the town of Waynesville, according to Haywood County Economic Development Director Mark Clasby.

Clasby confirmed Home Depot is one of the proposed stores but would not confirm Super Wal-Mart. Super Wal-Mart is the only known retailer that could consume the square footage being proposed, however. In addition, several similar projects by the same developer around the country have Super Wal-Marts, indicating a clear relationship between the developer and the world’s largest retailer.

The development is proposed for the former Dayco rubber factory, bordering south Main Street and exit 98 off the U.S. 23-74 Bypass. Clasby said the project will be a catalyst for much-needed redevelopment of the area.

“It’s a one-time opportunity,” Clasby said.

West Waynesville and neighboring Hazelwood were once home to more than 2,200 factory jobs at the Dayco rubber plant, a furniture factory, a fertilizer plant, tannery, and shoe plant. All closed except the shoe plant, costing the community 2,000 jobs.

The development will employ 600 people. Of those, about 250 are existing jobs at the Wal-Mart in Clyde that would be transferred. That means 350 net new jobs, mostly in the retail sector. The typical Home Depot has about 150 workers. Home Depot is known for being a good employer with higher paying jobs than the average retail sector, Clasby said.

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The Dayco factory has been languishing since it closed in 1998. For four years, it was tied up in the hands of businessmen with lofty plans that never came to fruition. They eventually landed in bankruptcy court. Officials with Haywood County and the town of Waynesville thought the site was too important to languish any longer and each pitched in $650,000 to buy it out of bankruptcy.

Haywood Advancement Foundation, a non-profit economic development group, took charge of the property and began looking for a buyer, preferably a manufacturer. Instead, the site was put under contract with Cedarwood Development, a big box retail developer.

That was nearly two and a half years ago. The developers had quite the to-do list in the meantime. They had to find retailers to set up shop in the complex. They had to sift through environmental regulations for the underground contamination left behind by the rubber factory. The site is also hamstrung by a railroad line slicing through it. Securing right-of-way from the railroad for the entrance was yet another challenge, Clasby said.

Clasby said the community is lucky to have these developers. They have business relationships with the right retailers and the capital it takes to pull off a project of this magnitude, plus the patience to wrangle with the site’s constraints.

“We’re fortunate to be dealing with such professional people,” Clasby said.

The developer has spent several hundred thousand dollars so far on engineering and due diligence and will sink a total of $1.4 million into engineering, public road access, environmental mitigation and railroad right-of-way issues. It will cost $2 million to demolish all the old factory buildings, rip up all the old concrete and haul it off, Clasby said. It will cost another $2.1 million to buy the property.

The developer hopes to start soon, but there’s one last challenge: wriggling out of some of the town’s land-use plan standards.

Clasby said he has confidence that Cedarwood will build a nice looking big box development if given leeway on some of the town’s stricter standards.

“I’m comfortable we are going to get something that is a high quality building design,” Clasby said. “It’s important to me personally that it has a great appearance as an entrance to the community.”

Clasby said three other retail developers were looking at the site when Cedarwood first came on the scene. The other three all fell through. Clasby said if the deal with Cedarwood falls through, it could be a very long time before another developer for the site comes along.

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