By BRADEN LAMMERS
Once the noon hour arrives at River Ridge Commerce Center, hundreds of workers flee the facility in search of lunch.
The daily routine is a microcosm of a broader issue facing the growing facility: With several large corporations now calling River Ridge home, the lack of retail options to support workers at the center has authorities and elected officials seeking answers.
To help determine what is needed, the River Ridge Development Authority has asked One Southern Indiana to conduct a survey of the commerce center’s businesses and determine what is needed. To help form a plan, the development authority has formed a retail committee that includes River Ridge Board members, business leaders and local officials. And beyond a quick meal the group is hoping to identify what other amenities are missing in the commerce center.
It’s a delicate dance, as officials in the cities and towns bordering River Ridge seek to protect their own interests.
One Southern Indiana President Wendy Dant Chesser said the group is acting as a third-party broker and is trying to determine what the world of the workers in River Ridge looks like.
“Are you self-sufficient here? What do you need for your business? What types of business in the area would be helpful to your business? And what would your employees say is a service that if located closer would that be helpful?” she said, citing questions that are being asked of companies and their employees.
Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore has seen the deluge of workers scrambling out of River Ridge onto 10th Street during their 30-minute lunch breaks.
“Tenth Street can’t handle all of that,” Moore said.
Dant Chesser said 1SI has already met with about six to eight companies in River Ridge to gather their input. Before the area’s economic development agency is finished, it plans to survey each of the businesses in the commerce center and gather information from its leaders and employees.
To date there is only one planned retail tenant locating in the former Indiana Army Ammunition Plant with the intent of providing services to the workers and businesses located in the commerce center.
River Ridge Retail 1, the hopeful tenant, is still working through the contract negotiations and hopes to close later this fall. The development encompass two acres in front of the NuYale property in the commerce center where two buildings will be constructed. The first building planned is a two-story building with about 9,200 square feet on the first floor and another 8,500 to 9,000 square feet on the second floor. It is expected to house up to four users. The second building would be about 5,000 square feet and house one to two users.
Ryan Pennington, principal and CEO of Seven Development LLC, the purchasers’ broker for the property, said the group is well on it’s way to determining what will locate at its facility.
“We’re wrapping up a good portion of our pre-leasing,” he said, estimating 80 percent of the first floor space is leased in the two-story building.
While Pennington would not reveal which tenants have signed-on, he said it is still an amenity-based project and the group’s plan has not changed. Businesses like a financial institution, sandwich shop and a medical office are likely tenants of the building.
As companies continue to locate in the former Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, often with thousands of employees, it is expected that more service-based businesses will be needed, and soon.
“River Ridge has the opportunity to take a very long-term approach to one of the most unique economic development assets that exists anywhere in the country,” Dant Chesser said. “Whatever decisions they make, for decades and generations they are going to have [a] lasting impact. With that said, we have to take care of the businesses now.”
She said 1SI is exploring a wide variety of businesses, from barbershops and salons, to a utility office, fast food restaurants, to a hotel and rental car facility.
But many of the answers may not come from what the individual needs of the employees are, but the business needs that may become apparent in conducting the survey.
“From the business side, I think that’s going to be, in my opinion, where you are going to get your ‘ah-ha’s,’ ” Dant Chesser said.
She said many of the companies’ employees, especially those that have been located in River Ridge for several years, have adapted to not having amenities like banks and restaurants in the commerce center.
Not all local officials are hoping to see a large group of amenity-based businesses locate in the commerce center, off Ind. 62 between Jeffersonville and Charlestown.
“I think it should be very minimal the amount of retail that goes inside River Ridge,” said Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall. “I think the main thing for the committee is look at the impact of what you put inside River Ridge. We’re concerned about developers and retailers, and those that have investments in properties currently.”
Hall said the areas around River Ridge should provide the bulk of services for people and that some convenience businesses could locate in the commerce center.
The concern is that if too much support business is located at the commerce center it could cannibalize business from the area municipalities.
“We’re satisfied that we would be a bedroom community,” Hall said. “I just think we need to be careful about what we do with River Ridge. The purpose of it is to develop jobs and it’s been doing that. I think the main thing is to make sure River Ridge grows and it’s a positive influence in all the areas.”
Moore said he prefers to have a more hands-off approach.
“I have complete confidence in the River Ridge board,” he said. “The last thing they need is having a bunch of politicians telling them what to do.”
Moore agreed that there should be a small amount of retail in River Ridge, something the plans for the 6,000 acre complex have always shown.
“I don’t think anybody is trying to build a town out there,” he said.
What the survey reveals is information that Dant Chesser hopes the area’s municipalities will take to heart.
“I’d like to see the municipalities use the same information to apply to the planning for their communities,” she said. “The information’s there. At One Southern Indiana, we want to provide the information and have it used. In my opinion, if there is a need for a particular business and that need can be met within the city of Jeffersonville, within River Ridge or within Charlestown it doesn’t matter if the need is being met.”
But again, the goal may be bigger than providing a fast food option to workers at Amazon.com or American Fuji Seal.
“Whatever needs that are addressed by the existing companies are going to be needs that any company that we would want to attract to the area are likely to have as well,” Dant Chesser said. “The better solutions we have the more attractive we’re going to be for development in River Ridge and beyond.”
River Ridge Executive Director Jerry Acy said he hopes to have the results of the survey available for the September River Ridge Development Authority board meeting.