5:29am

Thu October 20, 2011
Business

Loveland Close to Finalizing Deal With ACE Tech Park Developer

The Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology, along with the city of Loveland has selected Bowling Green, Kentucky-based Cumberland and Western Resources to be its partner in transforming the former Agilent Technologies site into the Aerospace and Clean Energy, or ACE, technology park. The city and the company are now in the final negotiating phase for setting up that collaboration.  KUNC’s Erin O’Toole talks with Jeff Nuttall, publisher of the Northern Colorado Business Report, about this expected partner.

O’Toole: So Jeff, who or what is Cumberland and Western Resources?

Nuttall: That’s a very good question, Erin. They were chosen by the city of Loveland earlier this month after Betsey Hale, the city’s economic development director, and several members of CAMT traveled to Kentucky to visit with Cumberland and Western officials. While they were there, the Colorado delegation visited a couple of sites that Cumberland and Western has had a hand in redeveloping.

O’Toole: Where did they go?

Nuttall: They first visited a technology accelerator project in Bowling Green that was formerly a shopping center. Buddy Steen, Cumberland and Western’s vice president for technology, recruited 35 technology-related companies into the space and totally transformed it in partnership with Western Kentucky University, and it’s now called the Western Kentucky University Center for Research and Development. But that was before Steen joined Cumberland and Western.

Betsey Hale also made a solo visit to a 2.1 million-square-foot, former cigarette-manufacturing site in Macon, Ga. that Cumberland and Western bought in 2006 and intends to redevelop into a jobs engine for the city of Macon.

O’Toole: That sounds promising – I mean, similar to what they’re hoping to do with the ACE Technology Park, right?

Nuttall: Yes, but in the last five years they’ve only recruited one tenant into the Macon site. A spokesman for the Macon Economic Development Commission said he’s glad Cumberland and Western has deep enough pockets to hold out for just the right mix of tenants for the site. But the bottom line is their attempts to fill it have so far failed.

O’Toole: I see. Should that be a red flag for Loveland and CAMT?

Nuttall: You might think so, but the folks we talked to with the city and CAMT said they were completely impressed by what they saw on their tour and believe it’s the right company to tackle ACE.

Plus, Cumberland and Western is owned by Tennessee billionaire Brad Kelley, so the theory is he has the deep enough pockets to do what it takes to redevelop the Agilent site into the ACE campus. It’s also fair to consider both the great recession and the difference in our high-tech market versus Macon, Georgia as factors.

O’Toole: So there don’t seem to be any big concerns by the Loveland and CAMT folks about inking a deal with Cumberland and Western, then?

Nuttall: Apparently not, and that could happen very soon. They have until about Nov. 6 or so to finalize the contract, which marks the end of a 30-day period of negotiation with Cumberland and Western to buy the $5.5 million site and agree on Cumberland’s development responsibilities.

And Elaine Thorndike, the CAMT CEO, noted that the ACE site will likely be a project that develops pretty quickly, as it has already received more than 30 inquiries from companies interested in being part of the ACE campus and in turning out products based on patents held by NASA and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

O’Toole: We’ve been hearing about this project since earlier this year. How important is the ACE campus to the state - and in particular to Northern Colorado?

Nuttall: Well, it’s immensely important. It’s been estimated the site could be home to up to 80 or more technology-driven companies producing 7,000 new jobs in Northern Colorado -- and perhaps 3,000 more statewide.

So it’s a very big deal, and everyone concerned agrees that it must get off on the right foot. Let’s hope the city of Loveland has made the right selection to do that.