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Camden Commerce Park to get first tenant

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Shown is the sign at the entrance to Camden Commerce Park off U.S, Highway 17. A Chesapeake, Virginia-based business that restores collectible vehicles has agreed to become the park's first-ever tenant.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

SOUTH MILLS — Fifteen years after it was first envisioned as a green-friendly business park, the Camden Commerce Park has landed its first tenant.

WAO Garage, which is based in Chesapeake, Virginia, plans to build an 8,000-square-foot facility on a 6½-acre site in the business park, bringing approximately $700,000 in investment to Camden.

"We're elated," Camden Economic Development Director Charlie Bauman said Monday afternoon on landing the park’s first tenant

WAO Garage, which restores collectible vehicles, will build its facility on the 300-acre park’s northern side, north of a lake, Bauman said. The company plans to employ between eight and 10 workers at its Camden facility, he said.

Bauman said he became aware of WAO Garage's interest in Camden from the Jones Lang LaSalle real estate firm, which helps market the Camden Commerce Park. WAO Garage was looking to expand and was eyeing Camden because its operational costs would be lower there than in Chesapeake, he said.

Bauman said he first began talking with WAO Garage representatives last November and the firm committed to building at the park about two months ago. He identified WAO Garage's leader as Randy Fink, who couldn't be reached for comment.

Located just south of the North Carolina-Virginia border, the Camden Commerce Park was originally envisioned as a business park that would attract green-friendly businesses. In fact, after Camden purchased the site for the park in 2003 from the Yeskolski family in Virginia Beach, Va., the park’s first name was the Camden Eco Industrial Park.

While Camden spent more than $1.8 million on the park’s development, the project received a large boost with more than $3 million in state funding, thanks in large part to the efforts of Camden’s legislative representatives at the time, state Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, and state Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank.

Just under $2 million came from the Golden LEAF Foundation in 2009-10 for sewer and water infrastructure improvements. In 2010, the N.C. Rural Economic Development Commission awarded the park $160,000 as an economic innovation grant. The N.C. Commerce Department chipped in $500,000 for extended road access into the park and the N.C. Transportation Department then awarded $424,000 for a first phase of roadways in the park.

The park was completed in 2010 and 2011, but up until WAO’s decision to build a facility never gained a commitment from a tenant. Hoping to attract more interest, the county agreed to change the park’s name from Camden Eco Industrial Park to the Camden Commerce Park in early 2017.

"We don't think it benefited us to continue with that brand, so we decided to change it," Bauman said of the park’s former name.

He said Camden has received significantly more inquires from prospective tenants since the name change.

"So, that in itself has produced good results, in association with our aggressive marketing of the location," Bauman said.

Camden’s current vision for Camden Commerce Park includes a mix of uses, including commercial, professional, research, residential and industrial.

Asked if securing the park’s first tenant will help attract others, Bauman said he thinks it will.

"Always the first investment bodes well and shows well for that park," he said. "So, from here, our expectations are pretty high.”

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