Bunkie Industrial Park still waiting for a tenant
What was once thought to be the birthplace of a new era of prosperity for this area now lays fallow.
The Bunkie Industrial Park is still a hope for the future, but at this time it seems to be a dim and distant one.
In 2013 the future looked bright. The industrial park was certified by the state as a “Work Ready” site for industry.
In December 2013 Gulf Coast Spinning textile plant announced it would locate in the industrial park. Gov. Bobby Jindal was on hand to make the announcement, which he touted as proof his economic development efforts were succeeding.
Instead of growing the area’s economy, the industrial park now only grows grass. The only sign of man’s involvement there is a pile of steel that had been delivered for the construction of the textile plant.
“It is a disappointment that no one has opened a company yet in the industrial park,” Bunkie Mayor Mike Robertson said. “Residents of Bunkie had so many high hopes that hundreds of jobs were coming to Bunkie. I still believe the jobs and a plant will come, but I didn’t think it would take this long to find a tenant.”
The south Avoyelles industrial park was the first in Central Louisiana to be state certified.
The 150-acre site located on La. Hwy 115 near I-49 is just outside the city limits. The city purchased the property and sold the 40-acre parcel for the textile plant construction. Roads were built and water, sewage and electrical service lines installed using a $10 million state grant.
The stage was set, and a few months later the show’s “star” appeared -- Gulf Coast Spinning.
GULF COAST SPINNING
Zagis USA -- the U.S. arm of a Mexican textile company -- announced it would build the 678,000 sq. ft. Gulf Coast Spinning Plant and employ 307 workers to spin cotton yarn. The development was going to be a $130 million shot-in-the-arm for the economy of Bunkie, Avoyelles Parish and neighboring parishes. It was scheduled to open in 2016.
Dirt work had started on the 40-acre site and tons of steel had been delivered. Cleco, a Pineville-based electric company, built an $11 million electrical system to provide power to the plant and the rest of the industrial park.
Without comment or explanation, all work stopped in 2015.
“When the announcement was made by Gov. Bobby Jindal and then Cleco made such a large investment to get power to the plant, everyone in Bunkie, including myself, felt the plant would become a reality,” Robertson said.
Gulf Coast officials eventually said construction was halted because they had decided to locate in a vacant plant in Shreveport.
Zagis USA CEO Dan Feibus said delays with the Bunkie project made it necessary for the company to locate its first stage of operations in Shreveport to ensure it could meet its production schedule for the plants purchasing the cotton yarn.
The proposed move to Shreveport also never materialized.
Zagis sued Cleco over allegations the utility company did not fulfill promised obligations. Cleco has countered that Zagis defaulted on its agreements.
That suit is still ongoing.
Robertson said Bunkie lost no money in the failed venture, just the promised potential that the project represented.
“I understand the frustration of the residents,” the mayor said. “They saw a project come, stop and go away. The real people left holding the bag are the residents of Bunkie.”
While the Bunkie Industrial Park sits empty, there have been several inquiries from interested companies, including some site visits. There have been a few companies that have visited the park two or three times, but there has been no commitment to locate there.
“It’s a long process to get someone to locate in our area,” Robertson noted. “Everything has to fit perfectly before a company locates in an area.”
State certification ensures prospective tenants that Bunkie has complied with all laws regarding control of the property for sale or lease, including all zoning restrictions, surveys, title work, environmental studies, soil analysis and public infrastructure engineering.
“Having a certified industrial park is a major step in attracting industry to Bunkie,” Robertson said.
Bunkie is not alone in trying to market the industrial park for a new tenant. the Louisiana Economic Development, Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance and cleco are also working to find tenants for the site.
“Someone will come,” Robertson said. “It’s only a matter to time before one locates in Bunkie.”