The business of our future?

Published 8:28 am Wednesday, January 14, 2009

SUFFOLK—While Suffolk continues to debate the construction of a controversial $325 million warehouse and distribution center, officials in Southampton and Isle of Wight counties and the city of Franklin indicated that they are poised to consider similar facilities for their jurisdictions.

CenterPoint Properties, based in Chicago, wants to build a 5.8-million-square-foot facility on 900 acres west of downtown Suffolk. The facility would be near Lakeland High School, and part of it would front U.S. Route 58.

The project is controversial because it would signifcantly impact the traffic along U.S. Route 58, also called Holland Road. The estimated cost to widen the highway to six lanes is $94 million, and a bypass would cost more than $250 million. Since the company is only offering to chip in $3.46 million to improve the road, the rest of the money would need to come from federal, state or local sources.

The Suffolk Planning Commission voted 10-3 in favor of the project on Dec. 16. The city council will now consider the matter and make a final decision.

But some planning commission members who backed the project told the Suffolk News-Herald they were afraid that if CenterPoint wasn’t built in Suffolk that it would be built further west.

Warehousing and distribution centers similar to the CenterPoint project would manage the container traffic from the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads.

In Southampton County, property near U.S. Route 58 and the CSX Railroad in the south of the county, and along U.S. Route 460 in the north, would be attractive options for citing warehouse and distribution centers, or perhaps intermodal facilities, according to County Administrator Michael Johnson.

Johnson said, “as an economic development strategy, Southampton County is very interested” in such projects that would support the port.

There are also options available in Isle of Wight County and Franklin.

Lisa Perry, the director of the Isle of Wight’s Department of Economic Development, said the intermodal park near Windsor offer easy access to U.S. Route 460 and the Norfolk Southern Railroad. In the south of the county, there is access to CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads and U.S. Route 58.

Tommy Miller, business development manager for Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc., said the Pretlow Industrial Park would be the only area suitable within the city limits for a distribution center. Miller said the park has open space and the proper zoning for such a facility, but the area would be much smaller than the size of the Suffolk project.

The Pretlow Industrial Park is near U.S. Route 58, but since it is not adjacent to any railroads it could not be used for an intermodal facility.

Johnson, Perry and Miller said that their respective communities have not been in discussions with CenterPoint Properties about alternative sites for the company’s proposed facility, should Suffolk decline the idea.

Regardless if CenterPoint comes to Suffolk, Perry said several companies were looking to build similar facilities in the region to support the port.

“There’s enough for all of us,” Perry said.