Plans to fast track a new industrial park in Delaware recently hit the brakes after the city was unable to secure state assistance for the project.

Plans to fast track a new industrial park in Delaware recently hit the brakes after the city was unable to secure state assistance for the project.

For the past six months, Delaware officials eagerly awaited the awarding of grants meant to accelerate development of commercial sites throughout the state by the Ohio Department of Development.

City officials felt good about their chances to secure $5-million in "Ohio Jobs Ready Sites" funding to finance water, sewer and fiber optic infrastructure for a 2,400-acre site in the city, south of U.S. Route 42 and Slack Road.

That, they said, would pave the way for quicker development of the site, which potentially could yield 1,500 new local jobs.

On Nov. 13, Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher announced the award of $46-million in Job Ready Sites grants and $4.5-million in other state infrastructure grants for projects at 12 commercial sites throughout the state.

Although Delaware's project was ranked the best in its region by an Ohio Public Works Commission subcommittee, it was denied a grant.

"We are obviously disappointed and equally frustrated because we are hard-pressed to find a legitimate reason why we didn't receive the funding," said Lee Yoakum, Delaware's community-affairs coordinator. "Clearly, if the state is serious about leveraging its strengths, one couldn't help but look at Delaware, Ohio, where we've seen manufacturing job growth when the state has seen a net manufacturing job loss."

Now, Yoakum said, it appears the Delaware Commerce Hub South won't be a reality for at least a decade. He said it's a significant setback for a project in which the city already has invested $8-million, and one the city believes could yield more than $200-million in construction investments from prospective tenants.

The grant denial was particularly troubling, Yoakum said, because the city's current industrial park has proven successful.

Since 2006, companies such as Sky Climber and V&P LLC moved hydraulics manufacturing operations to the park, North American Bus Industries Inc. broke ground on a 215,000-square-foot automotive parts distribution center, Associated Hygienic Products announced plans to expand its disposable diaper manufacturing facility 10 months after opening operations, and auto refinish paint manufacturer PPG Industries announced it would invest close to $12-million to add production capacity.

"What's frustrating is, unlike some other grant applications, we have a solid track record of having partners already on board," he said. "This isn't a 'we hope' sort of project.

"This is a 'ready to go' project."

According to Bob Grevey, an Ohio Department of Development spokesman, the state received 57 grant requests. He said one factor that worked against Delaware was the land on which the industrial park is to be built has multiple owners.

"That land is actually owned by five different owners, and under that plan they would all retain ownership," Grevey said. "As far as our administration of funding, we like to have control and be sure projects are going to meet deadlines.

"With five separate owners, we were concerned that control could be a problem."

In awarding the grants, the ODOD graded applicants on a number of items, including site marketing, potential economic impact on its region or the state, need for financial assistance, site attractiveness, site improvement plans and compatibility with other area priorities.

Grevey said Delaware's plans were solid, but appeared to benefit primarily the city.

"We judged on criteria of greater economic impact," he said. "This project was pretty much only the city in terms of partners in it.

"This was a good project. We would love to be able to fund every project, but we don't have that deep of pockets."

Still, city officials were left smarting. Noting projects which received grants included those in Dayton, Springfield, Cincinnati, Cleveland and its suburbs, Akron and Youngstown, Yoakum said it appeared the ODOD gave preference to more urban and blighted areas with ties to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

"This grant program has morphed from Jobs Ready Site to Jobs Ready Site within urban areas with strong union ties to the governor," Yoakum said. "I guess in the state's mind there's not enough economic distress here.

"It's almost as if you have to fail before they'll give you money."

Grevey declined to respond to those assertions.

nellis@thisweeknews.com