BENTON — On the north end of Benton’s city limits, 37 acres of grassy, untouched land has been waiting for its big moment. At least that’s how Dave Cooper sees the stretch of land, which is next to Benton’s airport.
“It’s such a good location and when I look at it, I see a huge amount of potential,” he said.
That’s why Cooper, who leads Benton and West City’s Economic Development Corporation (BWCEDC), has spent the past decade working to develop that land.
Last week, the group officially broke ground on the I-57 Airport Business Park, putting the punctuation mark on years of planning and step-by-step progress.
“It was thrilling,” Cooper said. “After having such slow movement, and going meeting by meeting, things are really opening up.”
That wide patch of land is finally having its moment — and so is the BWCEDC.
As of now, two of the group’s major projects are being put into motion, including a $50 million interchange project.
Board members’ plans for a second interchange on Interstate 57 just north of town recently got approved, a project officials say would alleviate heavy traffic around Benton’s Public Square and shorten travel time from the interstate to Franklin Hospital, the Benton Municipal Airport and the southern end of Rend Lake.
“That’s all we set out to do from the beginning,” said John Huffman, an BWCEDC board member. “It all works together and is connected. If we get one of those things working, it’s going to help the other one.”
For the board, it feels good to see signs of tangible results.
“We knew back then that it was going to be a long time, with periods of good news, no news or bad news, so we just kept plugging along,” Huffman said. “This was going to be a marathon, not a sprint.”
Dave Cooper, who is the executive director of the Benton-West City Economic Development Corporation, has overseen the plans to build the I-57 Airport Business
The BWCEDC, which is composed of 17 community and business leaders, has been working to find funding for the interchange project and bids for the park.
“We felt like we needed to take this into our hands because Franklin County gets passed over to other places all the time, and this is the thing that will spur so much development,” Huffman said.
The group sold several acres to Blue Ridge Tractor Co., which will start construction this week. It also received a $115,000 grant from Delta Regional Authority to pay for a new road to go through the park.
“As it grows, the park will bring in new jobs and more sales tax. This is in a town where any new job is kind of a big deal,” Cooper said. “People don’t realize how many businessmen love that the airport is right there, so they can fly in and out and check on their property.”
Cooper said the area probably won’t attract retail shops or restaurants. With Blue Ridge Tractor Co. as the anchor, he hopes to draw in manufacturing businesses to fill out the park.
“Even when you pass by that area in the next month or so, people are going to look at it a lot differently,” Huffman said. “It’s a way to showcase our property and a great place for future businesses to set up.”