Meetings planned with Walesboro test track users

A company hired to determine lots, infrastructure and use of the former Walesboro Airport as the city’s newest industrial park is meeting with representatives who have a stake in the development’s future.

HWC Engineering is planning meetings with two large Columbus employers that lease the former airport runways as a test track, consultant Doug Pacheco told Columbus Redevelopment Commission members Monday night.

HWC representatives will meet with Cummins Inc. and Faurecia, which lease runways on the Walesboro site and use them to test products they make, Pacheco said. The company was scheduled to meet with representatives of the Columbus Economic Development Board on Tuesday afternoon.

The Indianapolis firm was hired by the redevelopment commission to develop a master plan for the property, Pacheco said. It also will provide a marketing plan that will allow the city to sell lots for industrial development.

The company has seven meetings in its contract before the end of the year for different stages of the project, Pacheco said.

The Columbus Municipal Airport leases most of the 740-acre former airport property as farmland. In 2013, the Walesboro land generated $132,814 in farm revenue, a portion of nearly $600,000 the airport made in all leased farmland it owns.

Faurecia pays $70,815 per year to rent land at the Walesboro site, which includes land its technical center is located on, said Brian Payne, Columbus Municipal Airport director. Cummins pays $10,565 for its lease to use the test track, Payne said.

Redevelopment commission member Russ Poling said Cummins recently paid to repave half of the test track, placing an asphalt coating on top of the runway cement.

Cummins’ lease does not call for it to maintain the former runways that are used as a test track, Payne said. The company agreed to pave the areas needed, as it had been done in the past, at no expense to the airport, Payne said.

Lease terms and rent for Cummins did not change as a result of Cummins repaving part of the test track, Payne said.

Describing the track as very advantageous to the Columbus-based global engine maker, Poling said engineers need a space where they can run engines fast or extremely slow and where they aren’t disrupting traffic.

The track also is used by the Columbus Police Department for training and for its teen driving course, while Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. uses it as a training site for bus drivers, Poling said.

Frank Jerome, redevelopment commission vice president, said city officials recognize that few industrial parks offer a test track as part of the amenities.

“We were very cognizant we weren’t going to take the track away from people who are using it,” Jerome said, referring to Cummins and Faurecia.

In an Oct. 9 email to The Republic, Mayor Kristen Brown said she asked HWC to rethink any plans to redevelop the Walesboro site into a complex similar to nearby Woodside Industrial Park.

Brown said she envisions advanced manufacturers with a heavy reliance on research and development to locate at Walesboro, rather than companies that rely on manufacturing floor workers and struggle to hire and retain enough of them, an ongoing cycle she described as happening to firms in Woodside.

“The demand for a shared test track needs to be verified before being planned,” the mayor said in her email.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.