DANVILLE — Plans for an expansion at Time-O-Matic Watchfire  will position the digital sign company for three to five years of growth that could lead to the creation of 150 to 200 jobs, according to company officials.
Paul Kero, vice president of operations at the company, said the expansion of its main facility at 1015 Maple St., Danville, would immediately provide space for about 60 workers who are currently operating out of leased sites on Voorhees and Fairchild streets. In the last several years, the company has outgrown its main facility and has recently bought nearby property to accommodate its plans for expansion. Kero said its office in Champaign-Urbana, which houses its computer programmers, may possibly be relocated as well.
In preparation for the expansion, the city of Danville's planning and zoning commission approved Thursday night, by a 7-0 vote, the company's petition to change the zoning of three properties — two vacant houses from single family residential to light industrial and an undeveloped piece of land from agriculture to light industrial.
The commission also handled another request Thursday night that will lead to more development and jobs in the community. The commission approved the petition to rezone property in the 3600 block of North Vermilion Street to accommodate construction of a new 191,000-square-foot Meijer store that will be immediately south of the planned Kohl's store and immediately north of the Tractor Supply Store.
Both petitioners will seek final approval of their zoning requests from the city council at its March 20 meeting.
Vicki Haugen, president of Vermilion Advantage, said it was almost one year ago that she and other local officials began working with Meijer officials on a possible development. She said Meijer is another retailer that can address the "leaking" of sales to areas outside Vermilion County. She said in regard to concerns about Meijer's potential impact on other retailers and grocers here, the sales leakage numbers show there is plenty of purchasing going on to support all. She said some of the same concerns were voiced prior to both Lowe's and Menards locating in Danville, and both of those retailers have done well.
The Meijer development will also include a gas station/convenience store toward the front of the site, nearest North Vermilion Street.
Jason Hill with Woolpert Inc., the firm handling the site design for Meijer Inc., attended Thursday's commission meeting and told the panel that the store will include general merchandise, a full grocery, a garden center and drive-up pharmacy. He said it will share access from Vermilion Street with the Kohl's development at the stoplight intersection of North Vermilion Street and Boiling Springs Road and with the Tractor Supply Store's existing entrance.
Meijer Inc. has optioned about 23 acres from three property owners, who were part of the petition request, and will close on that property after the zoning change is final. Woolpert, on behalf of Meijer Inc., also must request that the city annex the eastern 12 acres of the site, which is not currently in city limits. The annexation request is scheduled to be considered at the city council's next public works committee meeting on March 13.
Time-O-Matic Watchfire officials said their goal is to get the design work for the expansion done as quickly as possible, so construction can begin this year. In addition to expanding the building, the company also will be expanding its parking lot. The company, which manufactures and sells digital signs, including billboards and on-property signs, has been in the community since the 1930s and has been considering a physical expansion for several years as the business has outgrown its facility.
Two residential neighbors who live near the company's main facility attended the meeting to ask two questions but did not speak against the company's petition. No one spoke against either petition Thursday night.
One resident wanted to know whether the Time-O-Matic Watchfire expansion would lead to a three-shift operation and create noise, but Kero said the facility currently has just two shifts, and by expanding the building, the company can put more emphasis on the first shift. The other neighbors asked if the wooded area near their property on Crystal Drive would be left intact to continue serving as a buffer, and company officials said it would be.