LUMBERTON — The Robeson County trustees on Monday unanimously voted to turn down a request from COMtech Park to sell or trade some prime property it owns at the park’s entrance so that the COMtech can move forward with plans to establish a Business Support Center.
Noah Woods, the chairman of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners and a trustee at the college, abstained. The county had lobbied trustees in favor of COMtech’s request, with County Manager Ricky Harris, a member of COMtech’s board of directors, last week calling the establishment of the proposed Business Support Center an “economical plus” for Robeson County.
According to COMtech’s plans, about three or four of the seven undeveloped acres that the college owns near the entrance to the park just off N.C. 711 are 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, had called the RCC land the “key” to COMtech’s plans for the center to become a reality. Nance was at Monday’s meeting, but left when board members went behind closed doors to discuss COMtech’s proposal and personnel matters.
Contacted at his home, Nance told The Robesonian he had “no comment at this time” to the board’s decision. He said he would comment later today.
Nance had lobbied heavily to convince trustees that the decision to provide the property so the Business Support Center could be established would be in the best interest of the college as well as the county. He said that he already had the commitment from one private investor in helping get the $2 million facility off the ground that would provide for six to 10 new or expanding businesses.
COMtech’s plans for the center included the establishment of businesses that would complement existing businesses at the park. Such businesses could include a print and copy shop, fitness studio, sandwich shop and dry cleaning laundry pickup, according to Nance, and create about 50 jobs.
COMtech officials wanted to locate the Business Support Center on the land owned by RCC because of the highway frontage on N.C. 711 and because the necessary infrastructure is in place. COMtech had agreed to swap land within the park for the real estate if RCC chose not to sell the land.
Trustees were behind closed doors for more than a half hour before reconvening publicly and voting in favor of retaining the land they bought several years ago. Currently, the college has no specific plans for the property.
“It was the strong consensus of the board that we keep this land that we bought in case of a need for future college expansion,” George Regan, chairman of the trustees, said. “Some trustees were very adamant about this in the board’s discussion… (Personally) I think it was a good decision for the community college and our future growth.”
RCC President Pamela Hilbert said that the trustees gave serious consideration to COMtech’s proposal.
“I appreciate that the board members put a lot of thought into something that is very important to the college,” she said. “There was a good discussion about the project and they made a decision that they believe is in the best interest of our future.”
Sammy Cox Jr., a trustee who has served on the RCC board for 14 years, said after the meeting that he received a lot of advice concerning the matter.
“I had a lot of people call me, mostly business people, telling me that we should not get rid of this property,” Cox said.
Cox also said that COMtech’s proposal to the trustees did not include a price offer for the land.
In other business, the trustees:
— Heard a brief report on the preparation of the college’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1. According to Hilbert, cuts in state funding will result in the college operating with $1.9 million, or 9.8 percent, less during the next fiscal year.
— Received a plaque from the American Cancer Society recognizing the college for its participation in a 25-year skin cancer prevention research project. Hilbert said that 300 individuals participated in the project at the college about a year ago.
— Accepted a $130,961 bid from Horne and Son Construction in Whiteville for parking lot expansion at the college’s Work Force Development Center.
— Heard an update from Mark Kinlaw, an RCC vice president, on the establishment of EMS and Medical Assisting programs. Kinlaw said the two programs received state approval in March and will be offered to RCC students beginning next spring.