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Crossroads Project shows slow progress

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By Jason Morrow

Traveling the Lebanon bypass, one will find Limestone Distillery, Hampton Inn and a 105,000 square foot empty spec building. Surrounding those structures are fields of grass and some trees. The land is meant for the Crossroads Project, an initiative to bring in retail and development. 
Despite years of efforts, Marion County Economic Development Director Tom Lund has had little success in bringing development to the Crossroads area along the bypass.
“We haven’t been real active in marketing that,” Lund said. “Partly because of the economy.”
In 2006, Lund hired a consultant from Minnesota to design a shopping center. However, the design is now outdated with some of the property now sold to Limestone Distillery.
“In order to recruit for retail you almost have to have available buildings,” he said. “We’re always trying to find restaurants to go out there, but the population is not large enough to attract a chain-type restaurant.”
Population is the problem with any retail, Lund said. In order to build shopping centers there needs to be an anchor store such as a Lowes, a supermarket or a car dealership.
“When you start talking about theaters and bowling alleys, that’s a completely different ballgame,” Lund said. “They count on entertainment dollars. People don’t have a lot of cash to utilize the facilities.”
As for the 105,000 square foot spec building, co-owned by Freddie Hilpp of Hilpp Properties LLC, Lund said it has been losing contracts to other states, most recently to Tennessee.
According to Lund, the company they were dealing with was supplied by the Tennessee Valley Authority and could negotiate better utility rates in Tennessee than in Kentucky.
Hilpp was optimistic about the spec building’s future and said there was a German company looking at it now.
“There is a steady stream of lookers,” he said. “If you don’t build one, no one comes to town to look.”
Lund described the building as a place that requires a special type of client.
“It’s a very heavy-duty building and it’s too much building for most clients,” Lund said.
According to Hilpp, at five years, the spec building has stayed open longer than any one he has built.
“We probably didn’t build the most economic building we could have built,” Hilpp said. “At the time, people were wanting heavier buildings.”
Hilpp recently had a groundbreaking ceremony in May for a new spec building that will be ready for operation sometime in the fall. The 104,000 square foot building will be located on Mercer Avenue in Lebanon. Hilpp said this particular building could be sold or leased to someone else, or he might use it for his own company as a warehouse.
The spec building on the bypass remains empty, however, and Hilpp attributed the reason to big competition.
“Different states give different incentives,” he said.
Lund is still hopeful for the future of the Crossroads Project.
“I’m waiting for the day it’s not a cornfield anymore,” Lund said.