State legislators and local officials are marketing a manufacturing site in Benton in the hopes of bringing jobs to a stumbling Southern Illinois economy.
Scott Reichmann of the Barber Murphy real estate group led a group of local leaders on a tour of the former Bombardier Recreational Products Corp. boat manufacturing facility Tuesday. The boat manufacturer ceased operations that in 2012 employed more than 300.
The property, constructed in 1978, is located on 39 acres in one of three Benton industrial parks. The nearly 400,000-square-foot facility is on the market for a reduced sale price of $1,050,000, or $2.50 per square feet. The property includes 16,085 square feet of office space.
"In St. Louis you couldn't even buy the ground for $2.50 per square feet. So, there's plenty of opportunity here," said Reichmann, who said the facility includes 16 dock doors and 18 drive-in doors.
"This building is so large. Imagine eight football fields under roof here. Right now there are some people who are leasing space (50,000 feet) for storage, but what we would like to see here is something that develops jobs," said Rick Litton, executive director of the Franklin County Regional Economic Development Corporation (FREDCO). "It's just a wonderful facility. There is no reason for this just to be sitting here."
Litton said his agency has had several calls about the property over the last couple of years, but the issue has been is that it is too large for one individual or company.
"We're not going to meet an operator in Southern Illinois that's going to need 400,000 square feet," he said. "So what we're trying to do is all of us work together to get two, three or four businesses that could utilize the space."
"We've had inquiries about this building. I talked to someone this morning and I had someone come in last week and they need a lot of space, 5,000- to 10,000-square feet," said Dave Cooper of the Benton-West City Economic Development Corp. "There is some interest. It's ready to move into if someone wants a great building and has a business plan ready to go. We're getting a lot of attention. Things are starting to move. There is a lot of talk and we're hoping to move that talk into jobs."
Benton Mayor Fred Kondritz said the tour was somewhat bittersweet, considering the building once employed more than 300 workers.
"The thing that stands out to me is the amount of workers they had on these lines. When I come back here today it's kind of a sad situation," Kondritz said. He indicated the facility may be "one of the answers" to Franklin County's need for industry.
"If we could get this going and employ half the people that were here, that would be great. We're looking for jobs," he added.
State legislators Dave Severin (R-Benton) and Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) were among the tour participants. They agree the Illinois job climate is not beneficial to potential business partners.
"We're not friendly to business and manufacturing. Raising taxes won't get us out of the mess we're in. What will get us out of the mess is bringing jobs to Illinois and keep the jobs we have. All of the things that are pushing people away, we've got to stop doing," Severin said.
"We have to become more business competitive," Fowler said. "We can't compete with our neighboring states, and that's what is hurting us. That's the reason businesses and individuals are migrating to Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky and creating jobs there because they have so much to offer. We have to be more business competitive with worker's compensation and property taxes. The fact the minimum wage increase passed is ludicrous because all it's going to do is drive small business out of business. Companies can't afford that."
Officials indicated they are willing to lease out portions of the building, or possibly sub-lease.
"I think that's a realistic possibility," Kondritz concluded.