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New prospects for abandoned Columbus bakery

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Prospective buyers for the vacant Dolly Madison plant will see potential in its National Road frontage, although they may not be as enamored with the 1960s-era building that’s showing its age, observers say.

Mark Pratt, a commercial broker with Breeden Real Estate in Columbus, described the bakery as obsolete back in November 2012, when Hostess Brands closed the facility and went into bankruptcy. He is holding to that assessment today.

Pratt said the current owner, Georgia-based bread and snacks maker Flowers Foods — which bought the Columbus plant among other pieces of Hostess during bankruptcy proceedings — realizes it, too.

But the bakery property, where local employees used to make Dolly Madison doughnuts and glazed sweet rolls, does have one major advantage, Pratt said.

Its location.

The National Road corridor is always a point of interest for the entire community, Pratt said. There is always demand among businesses for frontage property there, he said.

High-traffic location

The 11.5-acre property has about 940 feet of frontage along National Road, a corridor of commercial and retail uses including restaurants, car dealerships, retail stores and a mix of big-box and smaller stores.

The bakery also has about 100 feet of frontage and an entrance off Central Avenue.

When national or regional companies are looking for locations, National Road — also called U.S. 31 — is traditionally where they start in Columbus, Pratt said.

He believes the property is a prime location for a multiuse development, be it retail or commercial. The stretch is one of the highest traffic areas in the city, he said.

Indiana Department of Transportation traffic counts indicate 13,781 to nearly 19,000 vehicles pass by the site daily on National Road.

How much it’s worth

In an earlier interview, Pratt speculated a single acre with frontage on National Road could be worth $600,000 to $700,000. Those numbers could easily make the frontage property worth more than its current assessed value, he said.

The bakery property was assessed at $2,569,500 in 2013 and has an asking price of $2.75 million, according to Jason Hester, executive director of the Columbus Economic Development Board.

Finding a developer who will reuse the property with the bakery building is going to be a challenge, Hester said, because the building, which opened in the early 1960s, is not built to modern standards.

A tip about a possible developer for the site came in just as economic development officials learned that Flowers Foods planned to sell the property.

State economic development officials said a prospect was interested in a building of the plant’s size and location, Hester said.

“But I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up,” he said.

The city gets as many as 50 such leads a year about companies looking for a certain type of property, he said.

Hester contacted Flowers early last week asking whether it planned to sell the bakery and was told it was listed with Agnew Commercial Properties in Columbus. Commercial Realtor Rick Agnew said he had signed a nondisclosure agreement with Flowers Foods and could not comment about the sale.

There is some local interest in the property, according to Hester, and he anticipates there will be more once word gets out the bakery is for sale.

Despite the age and design of the bakery building, Hester said it has some positives. Those include the extensive warehouse space that was used to store baked goods. It could now be used to store something else, he said.

And there is a retail shop on the property where the company sold the Dolly Madison products right out of the factory.

If the property were to be reused for some sort of manufacturing, the owners probably would build a new plant, Pratt said. It would cost more, but the owners would be further ahead from an efficiency standpoint, he said.

Zoning options

As for potential reuse, City Planning Director Jeff Bergman said the site has some options because of its current zoning, and the businesses that are located nearby along National Road.

“From a city land use and zoning aspect, it’s a pretty straightforward property,” he said.

The site is zoned industrial, but it is surrounded by community and/or retail and commercial service uses. That becomes an advantage because a developer could look at both zoning options as a future use for the property, Bergman said.

The city included the bakery property in long-term land use plans that are a part of the city’s comprehensive planning for the city. The projected future use for the property is the community, retail or commercial service designations, according to city projections. That would include uses such as a big-box retail store, smaller retail shops, professional office space or commercial buildings.

Bergman noted that the property is close to FairOaks Mall and has commercial and retail development surrounding it. With its current zoning, an industrial use could easily utilize the property, Bergman said.

If a developer needed a different zoning, it would require an application to the plan commission to seek a recommendation, which would then be submitted to the Columbus City Council for a decision. Either industrial or commercial/retail zoning would fit city plans, as future use of the property is designated to fit in with surrounding businesses along National Road.

What neighbors think

The bakery’s neighbors include two car dealerships, Bob Poynter to the east and Renner Ford-Honda across National Road to the north. There are also auto-related businesses nearby.

Lisa Hurley, president of Renner Ford-Honda, said she could envision retail stores mixed with dining options for the bakery site. That sort of use would generate more visitors for the dealerships and other nearby businesses, she said.

As to whether another auto dealership might be interested in the property, Hurley said most of the available dealer franchises are taken.

John Staples, owner of John Staples Custom Pipes & Mufflers, would like to see the property redeveloped for a new use rather than continuing to sit empty on such a large frontage along National Road.

Another auto-related use appealed to him as it would create more opportunities for his muffler business.

“We have enough gas stations or bars, but we can always have another one,” Staples said.

The bakery property joins four other redevelopment options ranging from 10 to 30 acres that are available in Columbus, Bergman said.

The Economic Development Board will assist in marketing the bakery property, as it works with any commercial or industrial prospect with more than 10,000 square feet, Hester said.

The board’s goal, however, would be to attract primary employers who will be community-minded and offer high-paying jobs, Hester said, adding the bakery property is well-suited for that opportunity.

“Anything less than that, we will not pursue,” he said.

But Pratt believes the decision for redevelopment should be left to the private sector.

“I could sit here and speculate and you could talk to a half-dozen brokers and get different opinions on how it could be reused, but it needs to be opened up to the marketplace. There are lots of creative minds who can come up with the best use for the property,” he said.

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