Foertsch proposes reopening Maxon site

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By Vince Luecke

Owners of Corn Island Shipyard in Spencer County propose investing up to $5 million; new project could create 50 jobs

TELL CITY - A Spencer County businessman who operates a shipyard along the Ohio River has proposed leasing the former Maxon Marine Shipyard in Tell City to construct a variety of marine vessels.

Don Foertsch, whose family owns Corn Island Shipyard between Troy and Grandview, told the city council last Monday he is ready to invest between $4 million and $5 million in the proposed Tell City Boat Works, a project he said would construct towboats, barges and other marine vessels.

Foertsch predicted the company will employ 50 people within two years.

The city council approved a verbal resolution of support for the project and asked Foertsch to meet with the Perry County Port Authority and Perry County Development Corp. in preparation for a formal memorandum of understanding between him, the city and the Perry County Port Authority.

Tell City owns the land that was home for years to barge-builder Maxon Marine. The city purchased the land after the company folded and now leases the site to the county-operated port authority.

The port also operates the Hoosier Southern Railroad and transports pig iron, coal and other products to Waupaca Foundry, American Colloid and other companies.

Foertsch's plans and the council's initial support of his efforts cast further doubt on whether another company will make good on any of its promises to bring jobs to the site.

Tell City Marine Contractors, a start-up company that includes several investors announced nearly two years ago it would invest $14 million in a barge-building project. The company already signed agreements with Tell City and the Port Authority for use of the site and while Tell City Marine has obtained state and local permits for the project it hasn't broken ground or hired any local employees.

Mayor Gayle Strassell announced last week that the company has offered to step aside to allow Foertsch's project to move forward.

"They're basically saying they would bow out of their lease, which they haven't really kept anyway," she said.

As The News has reported in several stories, local officials have expressed concerns over Tell City Marine's ability to move forward with its plans. Part of its obligation was to construct a sand and salt storage building for the city to replace space it was supposed to lease at the port. The building wasn't constructed.

In a written proposal to the city, Foertsch said he is willing to pay $1,000 per month to lease the property for 10 years and would like two 10-year options to renew the agreement.

Tell City Boat Works proposes to lease the unused office space and the warehouse located on the city side of the floodway. The port and railroad use portions of the office building and had agreed to share space with Tell City Marine.

Tell City Boat Works proposes to construct a 30,000-square-foot fabrication building and wants to relocate outside storage areas used by the port upriver and will construct a concrete pad for pig iron for the port.

The port would continue to use its existing storage buildings under Foertsch's plan. Tell City Boat Works is also offering to pay for utility relocations.

Foertsch, who plans to seek an abatement of taxes on equipment used in the manufacture of marine vessels, said he wants to reach an agreement as soon as possible, saying he has customers in line.

Councilwoman Dianne Rudolph said the city has heard proposals before and presented plans that later evaporated.

"We've had hot air shot at us before," she said. "Why should we think this (proposal) is any different?"

Foertsch pointed to the success of Corn Island, a business he said has grown steadily over the years and now employs 140 people. Foertsch said he was also willing to give the city the first 10 years of lease payments, a total of $120,000, up front.

"I'm trying to make the deal clean and neat," he said. Waiting long, Foertsch reiterated, would put him in a bind.

Chris Kinnett, executive director of the Perry County Development Corp. asked for time to work with Foertsch and to talk with Tell City Marine representatives on the status of their project.

An agreement with Foertsch could come before the city council at a special Dec. 17 meeting or at its first meeting in January.