LUMBERTON — Robeson Community College trustees are keeping their cards close on a proposal from COMtech Park that calls for the college to sell or trade some real estate it owns at the park’s entrance a Business Support Center can be established.
“I don’t really know where this is going. I’ve been hearing some good arguments on both sides,” said George Regan, chairman of the board or trustees, which plans to consider COMtech’s request when it meets Monday. “Our major concern is that we have the land available if the need arises for future expansion.”
According to COMtech’s plans, about three or four of the nine undeveloped acres that the college owns near the entrance to the park just off N.C. 711 is needed to provide 15,000 square feet of “high quality” commercial space adjacent to current RCC and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke facilities offering assistance to entrepreneurs and start-up businesses.
Ryan Nance, the park’s executive director, calls the RCC land the “key” to COMtech’s plans for the center to become a reality.
Nance said that he has been in contact with several private investors and at least one is ready to move forward with helping get the $2 million facility off the ground. The facility would provide for six to 10 new or expanding businesses.
“Support Center businesses would provide services that would complement and strengthen businesses in the park,” Nance said. “Such businesses could include a print and copy shop, fitness studio, sandwich shop and dry cleaning laundry pickup.”
Nance made his case in a letter sent to trustees.
“The Business Support Center is a critical project for economic growth and jobs. As a pledged partner of COMtech, now is a wonderful time to move beyond any misunderstandings of the past and fulfill the mission and vision our organizations share for this county,” Nance wrote. “Your decision to support this project equals jobs for our people, opportunity for our businesses to grow, opportunity for our entrepreneurs to create, and greater flexibility for RCC’s future expansions.
“If you choose to not support this project, you block these opportunities now. And for yet another year, you pay to mow and maintain an empty field for which there is no known institutional need now, or in the foreseeable future … .”
Nance on Friday told The Robesonian that the center will not only create about 50 permanent jobs and inject $2 million into Robeson County’s economy, but will serve as a “catalyst” for drawing businesses to the park.
“We’re looking at future growth and this is a total transformation project,” he said. “This could serve as a real recruitment tool for the park.”
COMtech officials want the center located on the land currently owned by RCC because of the highway frontage on N.C. 711 and because all of the necessary infrastructure is in place. COMtech has agreed to swap other land within the park for the real estate if RCC chooses not to sell its property.
COMtech officials believe the RCC property is the most suitable for the center because it would provide a safe and walkable proximity for students, faculty and guests using the existing RCC and UNCP facilities.
Sammy Cox Jr., a trustee who has served on the RCC board for 14 years, said that COMtech’s proposal, originally brought to the trustees last month, just “popped up out of nowhere.”
“No price has been offered for the land. They just say they want it,” Cox said. “When we purchased that land, it was done so that we would have a place to expand should we need to in the future … . I wouldn’t want to trade that land for any other. That’s prime property.”
According to Cox, he has received about 15 or 20 phone calls, mostly from business people, telling him that the college should not sell the property.
“That’s the best piece of property in COMtech, and I bet it’s the best piece of property between Lumberton and Pembroke,” he said. “I’m open to any reasonable offer, but in my heart I don’t want to sell that property. We need to make sure that whatever we do is in the best interest of the college.”
Linda Metzger, a realtor, former member of the COMtech board of directors and newly appointed member of RCC’s board of trustees, said Friday that she is still gathering information that will help her make up her mind if the sale of property is in the best interest of the college and county.
“There are a lot of reasons to sell the property, and there are a lot of reasons not to sell,” Metzger said. “We want to make the right decision.”
Ronnie Hunt, chairman of COMtech’s board of directors, thinks that RCC relinquishing control of the property would be in the best interest of the college, COMtech, and Robeson County. He said that while it will not be a “total disaster” if RCC opts to keep the property, relinquishing it will “speed up” construction of COMtech’s proposed Business Support Center.
Ricky Harris, who is Robeson County’s manager and a member of the COMtech board of directors, agrees that RCC needs to relinquish the property so that COMtech can move forward with its plans for the Business Support Center.
“It will be an economical plus for Robeson County,” he said.
Regan said that he doesn’t know for sure whether college trustees will just discuss COMtech’s proposal at their Monday meeting or make a decision.
“I have heard that there are some members of the board who still want more information,” Regan said. “On Monday, I’m just going to try to guide everyone through the process.”