The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously June 28 to purchase the former Volvo plant at 2169 Hendersonville Road for $7 million in taxpayer funds.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, county, city and state leaders have hinted that the purchase is part of a larger, multifaceted arrangement with a private employer to take over the site. And in the hours leading up to the vote, WLOS News 13 began reporting that the employer is Canadian-based Linamar Corporation, a large manufacturer of engines, transmissions and drive trains.
However, commissioners’ lips were sealed at the meeting, where they neither confirmed nor denied the report (In previous interviews with Xpress, commissioners have said they’re bound by a confidentiality agreement).
Instead, commissioners and county staff touted the purchase in general terms, praising it as a needed economic development measure to preserve the site for manufacturing jobs rather than allowing it to be used for residential or retail space. County Attorney Michael Frue also assured commissioners that the county has “undergone an exhaustive due diligence to make sure the site is in good shape.” However, he admitted that “anytime you make a big business decision, you take a big risk.”
Asheville resident and longtime businessman (and regular commentator for Xpress) Jerry Sternberg helped clarify those possible risks during a public hearing on the matter, reporting that if the county doesn’t have a larger deal in the works, the purchase “could be very dangerous” because maintaining the massive 65 acre site and 405,108 square-foot building could cost between $300,000 to $500,000, a year, according to his calculations.
However, he noted that the $7 million price tag was an “excellent deal” based on his valuation of the property, and added that if the plan to bring several hundred jobs to the area comes to fruition it would be a huge boon to the county.
Other residents echoed Sternberg’s mix of hopes and concerns.
Candler resident Jerry Rice thanked the commissioners for their “great efforts to bring jobs here,” but went on to ask them for more details related to the reported deal.
“If a company is wealthy enough to operate at a site this big, why can’t they afford to buy and operate this property without government assistance?” he asked, adding: “How many skilled workers are we talking about? How much money do they take home?”
Pisgah Forest resident Lisa Landis also pleaded with commissioners for more information.
“Why would you be the go-between, why would the county commissioners be the middle men” between the site and a private company? she asked.
No further details were forthcoming from the commissioners, but board Chair David Gantt thanked citizens for their “great questions.” He has said a major announcement at the June 30 Asheville Chamber of Commerce meeting would help clarify further details surrounding the purchase.