Land option withdrawn for local ?mystery business?

The identity of the ?mystery business? that was considering a move to Hillsboro remains a secret, but it?s future in the community is not.

The unnamed business will not be coming to town after all.

Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke confirmed last week that the city has received a letter from the land agent who negotiated an option to buy land in Hillsboro Heights that the option has now been withdrawn.

?They have notified the title company that they no longer will be coming here,? Dalke said.

In March, the city council accepted an offer from a regional holding company to purchase the option to buy 3.7 acres?roughly three lots?in the Hillsboro Heights subdivision.

The holding company was looking for new development sites for an unidentified Fortune 500 parent company and had approached city leaders in Hillsboro.

Clint Seibel, the city?s economic development director, said the unnamed store would be able to sell fuel, groceries and pharmaceuticals.

?The business planned for Hillsboro will be a smaller version of what the company offers in larger cities,? Seibel had added. It was expected to employ 20 to 30 people.

Because of a confidentiality agreement signed by Dalke, the name of the business has never been released?and likely won?t be.

?I signed the confidentiality agreement, and that still goes on,? Dalke said. ?It doesn?t come to an end now.?

The holding company that approached the city about the land was South?east Kansas Development, LLC, which is owned by Ben Hawkins, a partner in a larger company called Hawkins Edwards Inc., based in Spokane, Wash.

Southeast Kansas Development would have been the initial purchaser of the land until the parent company was ready to move ahead with the store.

Various theories about the identity of the parent company circulated for weeks. Wal-Mart frequently was mentioned, but was neither confirmed or denied by Dalke, the only local person who knows its identity.

?From the people that felt this new business would step on their toes, they?re extremely elated that it?s not happening,? Dalke said in regard to the recent letter.

?Other than that, I haven?t been talking to people on the street that much, (but) I have talked to the people that felt it would have a direct effect on their business.?

Criticism of the council?s decision to sell the land to a Fortune 500 company frequently centered on the possibility that locally owned competing businesses would suffer, and perhaps be forced out of business.

But Dalke said last week she was disappointed by the letter of withdrawal.

?Of course, I?m always disappointed if we aren?t able to keep somebody that we thought was coming (to town with a new business),? she said.

The mayor said small, rural communities can?t afford to turn away legitimate business ventures, even when they may be in competition with existing businesses.

?What happens when the next one comes along?? she asked. ?I said to a couple of businesses that felt like it would step on their toes, ?You?re just going to have to make your business so prosperous that nobody else will think they want to come in.?

?Or else they might come in anyway because this is a good place to do business.?

Dalke said though she is disappointed in the recent turn of events, she is not discouraged about the future.

?I don?t think that based on the fact that this one (business), at this point, has fallen through that we?re going to quit recruiting,? she said.

?I don?t know who the next one is going to be?no more than I knew who this one would be (when the city was approached),? she said. ?But we?re going to have to keep recruiting if we?re going to keep growing here in town.?

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