For many, the Jan. 26 announcement may have come as a sudden surprise, but Mincey Marble’s decision to move its operations away from its 40-year base was hardly one made overnight or in a vacuum.
Early last year, company officials began seriously contemplating whether to pull up roots and move elsewhere or embark on another construction project with a new 100,750-square-foot plant across from the current one Browns Bridge Road.
In a nutshell, president and CEO Donna Mincey “was looking at all her options, including rezoning,” spokesman John Vardeman said.
In the end, and after a fall rezoning process that drew mammoth opposition, Mincey Marble ditched highly contested plans to build across from its current plant and instead chose to move its operation miles away to the Gainesville Business Park off Calvary Church Road.
“We started looking at site options in April or May last year,” said Tim Evans, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of economic development.
The proposal didn’t create any sort of public stir until after the Hall County Planning Commission’s rezoning approval, with conditions, on June 20. Some 30 people showed up July 11 at the Hall County Board of Commissioners work session expecting to comment or hear discussion on the matter.
Opposition continued to mount until the commission’s Oct. 13 approval. Support also swelled, to the extent that both sides were about evenly represented for the final meeting.
Then, for Mincey, the number crunching began in earnest.
A key factor in deciding to move was the securing of major new business contracts in late 2016 that “dramatically altered Mincey sales forecasts for the new year and beyond,” the company said in a Jan. 26 news release.
Also, other project cost estimates, such as road improvements that would need to be made on Browns Bridge Road, came in substantially higher than expected.
“Just the growth they experienced in the last half of the 2016 really pushed them in the direction of needing a bigger, long-term solution,” Evans said.
“And so, they came back to us ... maybe just before Thanksgiving when we started working on a renewed focus on those sites.”
The chamber ended up repitching Gainesville Business Park as an option.
“We had to look at something creative, so we looked at combining some sites,” Evans said.
Getting the project done also will mean shortening the main road, New Harvest Road, into the park.
“That’ll work well for them,” Evans said. “They’re the only tenant at that end of the park.”
On Jan. 18, the Gainesville-Hall County Development Authority voted to allow Mincey to put a contract on a 79-acre site at the park.
“I was excited to do it,” authority chairman Phil Wilheit said. “It’s a great location for Mincey Marble, for sure. The community where they were wins, for sure. And the city and county were excited to have (Mincey) come into that park.”
Mincey “ended up buying more land than they probably need, but they wanted to be sure they didn’t create a problem again,” Wilheit said.
“They (will be) located in an (industrial) park and really kind of out there. I can’t imagine anybody having any problem with an operation as clean as Mincey’s.”
The business park is near the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center and Hall County Jail.
Donna Mincey said of the move: “In the end ... I am happy for our opponents and am grateful to those who supported our rezoning efforts. This move should satisfy everyone.”
The move includes Mincey’s headquarters at 4321 Browns Bridge Road and a facility off neighboring Hidden Hills Drive.
Residents had vehemently opposed the plant for many reasons, including that it would lower property values and add to congestion on the already busy Browns Bridge Road.
They also complained about styrene odors emitted from the plant and their possible adverse health effects. One of the overriding concerns was that the new plant simply didn’t fit in a residential neighborhood.
Lewis Miller, one of the most vocal opponents, praised Mincey’s actions and also said residents “look forward to preserving this residential-agricultural area in the future and working with the Hall County commissioners in fulfilling what we see as their obligation to do that.”
Srikanth Yamala, Hall’s planning director, said the zoning for the property — planned industrial development — “stays with the property and any changes to it need to be initiated by the property owner.”
“If the proposed use is exactly what was approved (for Mincey), then the property owner does not have to go” to public hearings and ultimately get the Board of Commissioners’ approval, Yamala said.
“Any deviation from it, they would have to,” he added.
As far as marketing the property, “we’ll be talking to real estate agents … and get suggestions from professionals,” Mincey said in a Jan. 26 interview just before announcing the company’s move at a Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce board meeting.
“I’m just speculating, but I wouldn’t think you’d see heavy manufacturing in there,” she said. “We have some really nice (lakefront) property below our plant, so some of it may be residential and some, commercial.”
In the meantime, Mincey has said she expects to secure financing for the new building, which will be between 350,000 and 400,000 square feet and cost between $15 million and $20 million.
“I would expect (the sale) to close by April, and they may speed that up,” Evans said.
Construction and relocation are expected to be completed by early 2018.