City, county pave way for possible buy of Dana site

COLUMBIA CITY — What to do with a long-vacant industrial property that could use a serious cleanup may soon be a problem of the past.Whitley County’s Economic Development Corporation has been paving the way since last year for the sale of the former Dana plant located at 643 W. Ellsworth Street in Columbia City.Novae Corporation, a manufacturer of utility trailers and commercial lawn equipment with facilities in Markle, North Manchester and a small operation in Columbia City, is considering purchasing the 11.725-acre property in western Columbia City.In making the purchase worthwhile for the company, city and county officials have all agreed to forgive utility and tax debt, as well as provide Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT) incentives with a total incentive package of more than $92,000.Alan Tio, Whitley County’s EDC director, made the rounds in the past week to Columbia City’s Board of Works and Safety, the town’s Common Council as well as the county council and commissioners to ensure all parties were in agreement on the incentives.“The company hasn’t yet committed to this project,” Tio told the commissioners Monday, “but we wanted to make sure we have all the incentives in place.”Officials at both the city and county levels have lauded the possible deal as a win-win situation.“I’m so thrilled that they’re even considering coming up here, let alone taking over that building,” said Commissioner Don Amber on Monday.Another hurdle for Novae, the cleanup mandated by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, should be taken care of by grant money given to the city for assessment and cleanup of the property.The Columbia City Brownfields Committee reported in November that an agreement was being brokered between IDEM, Novae Corp. and Columbia City, which would remove the city from any liability and put only limited responsibility on the prospective buyer.The bulk of the liability still lies with Dana, despite that company being at least twice removed from ownership.The property was purchased in 2007 by C.F. Gomma, an Italian-based company that didn’t stay in Columbia City long, having stripped copper from the building and disappearing overnight, according to economic development consultant Lori Shipman.The sudden move left scores of workers jobless.The county’s Geographic Information System (GIS) site has the current owner listed as Columbia Brown, LLC.For its part of the deal, should the company decide to proceed with purchasing the property, Novae Corp. would be required to stay in Columbia City at least five years and would have to build a workforce of at least 21 employees.The local facility on Chauncey Street currently has 15 employees.Tio finished his tour of the city and county boards Tuesday night at the Columbia City Common Council meeting where the five-person panel unanimously agreed to the incentives.“This agreement doesn’t mean, for the sake of the company, that this is a done deal,” said Columbia City Mayor Jim Fleck.Novae Corp. President Steve Bermes thanked the city for its efforts in brokering the agreement and called the prospective deal a “significant project to the city and the people.”The company has experienced significant growth in the past year with an expansion project in North Manchester.According to, the company announced in March of 2010 its plans to expand its trailer manufacturing operations in North Manchester creating up to 85 new jobs by 2013.