Economic development is a dance, says George Lake, president of Marion Economic Development Co., said his city finally has been able to cut in.
As recently as six years ago, the city only had 25 acres of shovel-ready land to offer up when it came to new projects. Now, through several different industrial parks, Marion has an excess of 300 acres of shovel-ready land prime for development.
“Six years ago, we could see the dance hall but couldn’t get in,” Lake said. “We just had to listen to music by the window. Now we can dance with anyone we want.”
Next Tuesday, the economic development agency will open the Marion Enterprise Center, 184 acres of shovel-ready land at the corner of Highways 151 and 13. It’s a project that’s five years in the making, and Lake hopes it will attract manufacturers and companies in need of warehouse space.
ElPlast, a Polish company that supplies large press-to-close zipper bags used by food, pet food, lawn care, pharmaceutical and other industries, will be the business park’s first tenant and begin construction on the site soon. The planned 36,000-square-foot building will see operation by 2014.
Lake said he’s in talks with other companies and hopes to announce more tenants by the end of 2013 or in early 2014.
The Marion Enterprise Center also is undergoing certification in a statewide shovel-ready program, Lake said. To be certified, the site must meet certain criteria, including environmental and archaeological reviews, paved roads, and sewer and water systems.
“Anyone can tout a site as ‘shovel-ready,’” he said. “But you could mean a bean field in the city limits.”
The program offers consistent standards to develop and create an inventory of land ready for immediate use by developers.
A second, private industrial park — the Marion Industrial Park — will offer an additional 139 acres of land ready for development, targeted toward environmentally conscious companies.
At the top of the list for possible occupants are Marion Iron, a distributor of steel bars and other materials, and trashenol company Fiberight, which turns waste into ethanol. The city is in talks with Marion Iron about relocating the company from its Seventh Avenue location into the park, while the Blairstown company is planning to build a multimillion-dollar waste facility.
Lake said these industrial parks are especially important because they not only give Marion the ability to attract new companies from across the world, but they also offer existing businesses room to expand.
Retail, office space and city buildings
An influx of industrial property isn’t the only change happening in Marion. The city is also seeing new city properties as well as retail and office space pop up.
Lon Pluckhahn, Marion city manager, said work is being completed on the new 42,000-square-foot police station, which is set to open in November. The flooring is down, paint is on the walls and furniture is being moved in.
Meanwhile construction has started on an amphitheater in Lowe Park, which could be in use by November, and a campaign is in the works to increase the library levy and renew the one cent local option sales tax, to help expand that building.
Pluckhahn said if the measures pass, the library could expand to the west and up, becoming a multi-story building.
Concrete has been poured and stairwells have been finished on a three-story, 18,000-square-foot building at 1317 Seventh Ave. Phil and Becky High of PDS Investments are pushing for a Feb. 14 open date.
Phil High said they are still looking for a second-floor tenant to join their jewelery store Philip’s Diamonds on the first floor and Urban Vintage hair studio on the third floor. High also is exploring building a wine bar on the roof top, he said, to hold events during the more “pleasant times of year.”
A $22 million redevelopment of Lincoln View Square, at the corner of 35th Street and Seventh Avenue, is well underway, with the first of four retail buildings finishing up, said Hannah Kustes, vice president of Adobe Construction.
Subway sandwich shop and Sophia’s Nail & Spa have signed on as tenants, and Kustes said the company is in negotiations with others. A new Kum & Go opened earlier this month, following the construction of a CVS Drugstore and Linn Area Credit Union along Seventh Avenue.
There will be two single-story retail buildings and two two-story office buildings, she added. Altogether, there will be 44,000 square feet of office space and 25,400 square feet for retail.
“The shopping center needed redevelopment,” Kustes said. “It’s in an excellent location, but the land was underused.
“We maximized the potential space with building placement. The shopping center is something we felt we needed.”
To make way for the new construction, much of the original shopping center still needs to be demolished, including Marion Bowl and 15,000 square feet of the old mall.
Kustes estimates the redevelopment will improve property values from $3 million to about $20 million as well as provide needed services and retail options for the city’s growing population. Marion has increased from about 26,294 people in 2000 to 35,843 in 2012, according to the Census Bureau.
“Marion is ready for it,” she said.