Redfield council rejects offer of former lab facilities

REDFIELD — This city’s aldermen voted twice in a called meeting Monday evening to reject motions to consider accepting an 87,600-square-foot lab, mothballed in 2009, and more than 40 acres that were offered to the municipality.

Mayor Tony Lawhon said Charles River Laboratories, a Massachusetts research firm, has indicated it was interested in donating the lab and land to the city, but required a commitment from Redfield by 8 a.m. Tuesday.

A two-thirds majority of the Redfield City Council voiced questions about potential liabilities with the property, including environmental issues and the cost of maintaining and repairing the complex.

“I admit I would rather have the 120 jobs lost when the lab closed, but the property has a number of potential uses,” Lawhon told aldermen earlier. “We are doing it one step at a time to do it right.”

Lawhon submitted a letter of intent Dec. 20 indicating a desire to accept the property. However, the letter came “with a request the city be allowed a period of time to assess the financial obligations” it would assume by accepting the buildings and land.

Several firms expressed an interest in acquiring the lab for research projects with the National Center for Toxicological Research and the Pine Bluff Arsenal, but no agreement was reached, a representative of the real estate firm acknowledged earlier after a tour of the facility by Redfield officials.

At one point Charles River discussed demolishing the structure, constructed in 1983, because of potential liability issues, Lawhon said, but agreed to put off any demolition plans for a year.

Lou Ann Nisbett, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, addressed the council Monday and noted that should Charles River donate the property to Redfield, a potential buyer could be eligible for incentives from the Economic Development Corp. of Jefferson County. Revenue from a three-eighths cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2011 was earmarked for job creation.

Aldermen were told it costs an estimated $100,000 annually to keep the utilities on at minimum levels in the buildings and a number of mechanical and roof problems were listed by Charles River.

Lawhon acknowledged that “a lot of unknowns” exist and said he wanted the council to make the decision.

The municipality’s $650,000 annual budget has been stretched with lower-than-anticipated revenues for the first quarter of the year, he added, with city officials using reserves to make the city’s payroll.

“Council, this is in your lap,” he added.

The first vote on accepting the property failed, with Aldermen Carol Eagle and Glen Flemmons casting the only “yes” votes. Sandra G. Garrett, Diann Smith, Larry O’Briant and Darrell Hedden voted in opposition.

A motion by Hedden to reconsider failed by an identical 4-2 vote.

The alternative, a representative of the Little Rock commercial real estate firm Flake and Kelly said earlier, would involve Charles River selling the former animal research lab at auction. Lawhon called Dave Carter of the firm after the two votes and simply said “we pass.”