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Bob Evans finds greener pastures in New Albany

Bob Evans Farms Inc.’s announcement that it will be moving its corporate headquarters from Columbus’ South Side to New Albany in 2013 has left Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman feeling used.

“The decision is the product of an unprecedented partnership between Bob Evans Farms, the State of Ohio and the Village of New Albany,” said Steve Davis, president and chief executive officer of Bob Evans, at a press conference on Thursday at the company’s current location, 3700 S. High St.

The company will be getting more than $11 million in incentives from the state, including $7.125 million in loans and $3.522 million in tax credits, to build the new headquarters near Beech Road and State Route 161, said Ohio Department of Development spokesman Jeff Botti.

The package from New Albany is worth $9.8 million, including a 15-year, $8.29 million property-tax abatement, New Albany spokesman Scott McAfee told The Columbus Dispatch.

Coleman spokesman Dan Williamson said the $14 million package that Columbus offered “was used as leverage for a better package from New Albany.”

Director of corporate communications for Bob Evans, Margaret Standing, said the company began exploring its options two years ago. It came down to renovating its current location, moving to another location in Ohio or moving to Texas, where the company owns land.

Gov. John Kasich’s administration touted the announcement as a victory.

“Our department worked quickly to make sure this Ohio icon remained in Ohio,” said Kasich’s spokesman Rob Nichols.

But Williamson said Davis told the mayor the company was never in danger of leaving the state.

“Steve Davis directly told the mayor this was a choice between staying in Columbus and moving to New Albany,” Williamson said. “The state ended up paying for something that was free.”

Williamson said Bob Evans came to Coleman’s office with the idea of moving to New Albany almost a year ago, and the city presented the package to keep the headquarters — along with its 360 jobs and $600,000 in annual tax revenue — in the city.

“Bob Evans made a number of requests in order to stay, which we met,” Williamson said.

Standing said the company’s first step two years ago was to reach out to Columbus and consider renovating the current three-building complex.

“One of the things we need to do is get everybody in the same building,” she said. “But once we started looking at open sites, we started realizing that the way the market was right now, you could get a lot of land for a pretty low price.”

The option of moving to Texas came about “pretty early in the process,” Standing said.

“The decision to stay in state really came about when we started talking to the Ohio Department of Development,” Standing said. She was unable to specify when any of the decisions were made.

Nichols said this is just the latest victory for the Department of Development, under the guidance of newly appointed Californian Mark Kvamme, who will oversee the department’s privatization into the nonprofit JobsOhio.

“His successes as director are manifest and significant,” Nichols said. “His fingerprint on the employment situation in Ohio has been immediate and indelible.”

Nichols said a pending suit against Kasich, which alleges Kvamme’s California residency renders him constitutionally ineligible to head the department, will have no impact on any decisions the department has made.

Part of the city’s proposal was a new building near Polaris, but Standing said New Albany’s aesthetic of “green spaces and white fences” was a better fit for the company’s brand image.

Coleman’s office is still feeling used.

“(Coleman) is disappointed simply because he believes the facts were misrepresented by Bob Evans,” Williamson said.

Williamson said he does not doubt that Bob Evans told the Kasich administration they were considering a move to Texas.

“That’s obviously something they told Gov. Kasich so they could get the tax incentives (from the state),” he said.

Standing said the company was “disappointed” to hear the allegations from the Coleman administration, but said Bob Evans will continue to work with the City of Columbus to find a tenant for the old site.

She said the company has made the right decision.

“We’re a publicly traded company,” Standing said. “We needed to do what’s best for our shareholders.”

Bob Evans Farms Inc. is a $1.5 billion company, with 715 full-service restaurants in 18 states. It was founded in 1953 in Gallipolis, Ohio, and the headquarters moved to its current location in 1968. 

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