On June 9, 2009, an explosion tore through the ConAgra Foods Slim Jim plant in Garner, killing four workers and injuring dozens. Two years later, ConAgra shuttered the plant and moved production to Ohio.
But before leaving town, the company gave the plant, the surrounding land off of Jones Sausage Road and $500,000 to Garner.
The money was to market the plant to prospective tenants, and while some have expressed interest over the years, none has signed the dotted line, even after Garner razed the main building in hopes of making the land more attractive.
Maybe that's about to change.
Hillwood, a Texas-based company that develops industrial, commercial and residential real estate, has submitted a site plan for the property, which has been idle now for seven years.
In an email, Hillwood declined to talk about its Garner plans, or even acknowledge that it has any.
"We do not comment about deals that we may (or may not) be pursuing," said Scott Martin, Hillwood's Atlanta-based director of development.
Perhaps that's why Councilman Buck Kennedy was more reserved than excited when asked about the site plan. "We get inquiries," he said of available industrial properties in Garner. "You just have to wait to see what pans out."
Jeff Triezenberg, Garner's planning director, said the engineering firm WithersRavenel submitted the site plan on Hillwood's behalf on Feb. 15. Since then, the plan, which calls for 640,000 square feet of warehouse/light industrial space, has been making its way through Garner's review process.
Nothing has stood out, Triezenberg said in an email. "Comments have been routine in ensuring that the applicant is meeting all of the applicable regulations of the ordinance: landscaping, lighting, parking, etc.," he said.
Triezenberg said the planning staff expects to complete its work in the next 30 days. After that, the plan would move to Garner's planning board for its recommendation and then to the town council, which would need to grant a special-use permit for the project to proceed.
Garner routinely requires special-use permits for high-impact projects, Triezenberg said. "Projects encompassing large acreages have been treated this way in the past, so this is in keeping with past precedent," he said.
According to Hillside's website, Ross Perot Jr., son of the onetime presidential candidate, founded the company in 1988. Its best-known project is AllianceTexas, an 18,000-acre inland port with an industrial airport, corporate campuses, retail, entertainment, housing, schools and churches.
"We actively develop and buy industrial land and buildings across the U.S.," the company says.
The Garner Economic Development Corp. owns the former ConAgra site, but whether it would sell or lease the land to Hillside is a question Garner officials were unable to discuss.
"I can't discuss any details of how that might work," said John Hodges, Garner's assistant town manager for development services.