BROOKSVILLE — When Accuform Signs announced in February that it was putting its expansion plans on hold, Hernando County officials thought they might be able to keep state grant money that had been awarded for road and utility improvements at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.
But that won't be the case.
At the company's request, the county has taken several recent steps to back away from the project, which was to include new headquarters and an enlarged manufacturing center for the safety sign maker.
Early this month, the County Commission voted to give back $2.5 million in block grant and state transportation grant money and to end the lease agreement for a portion of the 44-acre site Accuform had planned to lease at the airport's technology center. This week, the commission adjusted its budget to reflect the loss of the money.
The plan was to build a 300,000-square-foot facility at Corporate Boulevard and Aerial Way.
In October 2012, the proposed expansion was heralded with a visit from Gov. Rick Scott, who declared the $15 million construction project one of the biggest in the state that year. The largest company at the airport, with 280 employees at the time, Accuform promised to add 271 more workers.
Then, earlier this year, Accuform officials announced that the company was exploring other options to expand.
Wayne Johnson, the company's chief executive officer, said recently that the exploration continues and that he felt it was appropriate that the county return the grant money and free up the land.
In April, he wrote to County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes, saying that designing the project had been a challenge and that putting it on hold was even more difficult.
Johnson said the Hernando expansion plans would be delayed for at least a year "while we work through some major investments in our business and while we pursue a possible merger/acquisition of a competitor in our space."
The company, not knowing the outcome of all of that, was convinced that "it was not prudent to invest in the additional manufacturing space at this time," he wrote.
Johnson went on to praise the county for helping Accuform with its plans. He noted that the company expects continuous job growth, but "we're just going to have to do it all in the space we have for now."
The county was awarded a $1,061,094 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to realign Corporate Boulevard, add a traffic signal at Corporate Boulevard and Aerial Way, and extend Technology Drive by 1,500 feet.
The work was supposed to improve traffic flow and specifically help with access to Accuform.
The county also received a $1.5 million Community Development Block Grant that was to provide for additional infrastructure for the project, including water and sewer work and changing the drainage plan for the area surrounding the new facility. County officials had been looking forward to those improvements, which would open up new areas of the airport's technology center.
Accuform was in line to receive millions of dollars in state and local incentives, but most are performance-based, and without the creation of new jobs, they will not be paid.
Johnson was upbeat in his letter to the commission about the company's plans.
He thanked Dukes and the commission for their support and said, "we hope to be able to bring this new building off the shelf in the near future and move forward again."
An artist's rendering of the new facility is still on Accuform's Web page and labeled as a future planned development.