JEFFERSONVILLE, IN (WAVE) - With a click of a lighter, a lease with the army for the River Ridge area is up in flames and officially at an end. After years of work, the River Ridge Development Authority was able to end a 50 year lease with the Army 35 years early, opening up an area that used to make ammunition up for new development.
Wednesday morning, a symbolic burning of a lease with the Army ends a decades-long hold on a northern area in Jeffersonville, the 6,000 acre area formerly known as the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, now better known as River Ridge. While the agreement may be at an end, there’s still more time and money needed on River Ridge’s end to clear up much of that property that’s been sitting unused for decades.
“And we're spending, to give you an example, we've already spent like $5-million on that area right there," said Jerry Acy, Executive Director at River Ridge. Parts of River Ridge are developed while others are littered with old, forgotten buildings, more than 1,000 of them are still standing. Acy said they’ve already cleared away around 1,000 buildings and they have an aggressive schedule to clean up the remaining ones. “I mean, these look like little dots but in some cases, these are big buildings," Acy said, pointing toward a map that shows the vast number of buildings in the massive River Ridge area.
In those buildings, ammunition was manufactured, packed up and shipped off during World War II. Many of those buildings sit on the side of Highway 62 for drivers making the trip between Jeffersonville and Charlestown but the buildings stretch much farther back than just those visible from the road.
“Oh, this goes a couple miles back to here," Acy said.
To fulfill the lease, River Ridge needed to buy the land back from the Army, get the federal government to release all liens on the property and take over leases to the land the Army has been leasing out to companies on the property since the ’70s. They were able to do that 35 years early because of River Ridge’s success, Acy said, continuing to bring big business and thousands of jobs to the area.
"We will exceed 10,000 next year, that’s a big threshold. At the height of the production here with the army there were 25- 27,000 people working,” Acy said. “So we still have a ways to go.”
River Ridge is one part of Jeffersonville that is constantly growing and it’s massive. River Ridge is 6,000 acres and right now, only about one-fifth of it is developed. That constant growth is helping to pay the remaining $370-million price tag to tear down the old buildings and create new roads, water and sewer systems so that new businesses can move in.
It’s a large project feeling within reach now that the Army lease isn’t hanging over anyone’s head."It’s a relief, it’s done,” Acy said. “It’s kind of put a stamp on it.”