CHESTER - Marketing two old Hancock County football stadiums for economic development purposes means looking at them from two angles - above and below.
Economic development officials may soon be flying in helicopters to take aerial photos that will give prospects a better view of the properties. Meanwhile, they're anticipating a report that will reveal whether the soil on either site contains hazardous materials.
Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corporation (BDC) of the Northern Panhandle, said aerial photos and an environmental assessment will go a long way toward attracting potential developers to the sites and preparing the way for future development.
A “For Sale or Lease” sign at Newell Memorial Field announces the availability of 3.7 acres of developable land. Hancock County commissioners bought the property from Hancock County Schools late last year, but inquiries since then have been few. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
"Most of the inquiries we're getting for the stadiums and TS&T are related to gas and oil and transportation logistics," Ford said. "What makes those properties particularly hot ... is that these areas are centrally located where the primary exploration in the Marcellus and Utica shale is. ... People have their feelers out, and they're interested in these properties."
The properties include the old Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery factory in Chester that was demolished and cleaned up last year. The pottery sat vacant and blighted for 30 years after it closed in 1981. The BDC, the recognized economic development authority for Brooke and Hancock counties, bought the 8.5-acre site in 2011, paving the way for its reclamation as a potential site for future business.
Also in 2012, the Hancock County commissioners bought two football stadiums - Newell Memorial Field and the old Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton - from Hancock County Schools for $400,000. The properties add to the county's portfolio of marketable and developable land.
On to the next project
By STEPHEN HUBA
CHESTER - Hancock County residents are so excited about last year's clean-up of the old Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery in Chester that they're ready for another project.
So ready, in fact, that they've convinced the state of West Virginia to give them funding and technical assistance.
A newly-formed committee of 10 people in the public and private sector hopes to use the assistance to advance another economic development project in northern Hancock County. The group is traveling to Morgantown today to participate in the first of several workshops led by the West Virginia Community Development Hub.
Seven West Virginia communities, including Chester, were selected this year to participate in the Hub's Communities of Achievement Program, or HUBCAP. The program provides HUBCAP communities with training so that they can be more effective in pursuing economical development projects, said Hub Executive Director Kent Spellman.
"It was a perfect time for us to connect with them and see how they could take it to the next level," Spellman said of the Chester community.
Spellman spoke to the Rock Springs Riverfront Redevelopment Committee a year ago about ways that the TS&T reclamation project can be used to spur further development. The committee, made up of Chester city councilmen, residents and business owners, was formed in early 2011 to spearhead the TS&T clean-up project.
With that track record, Chester was put in a good position to pursue further development opportunities, said Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corporation (BDC) of the Northern Panhandle. What the community needs now, he said, is training and technological and financial support.
"All (HUBCAP) wants to do is help you improve your game. With the success of one project, they want to give you the tools to have even more success on the next project," Ford said.
The Chester steering committee will receive training on community project management, the assistance of a community performance coach and access to $12,000 worth of technical assistance "in whatever form they want," Spellman said.
The team met on Saturday for the first time and discussed, among other things, potential development projects, he said.
Although Chester City Councilman Mike Dotson did not attend Saturday's meeting, he plans to be part of the HUBCAP initiative, just as he was part of the TS&T steering committee.
"It's kind of a spinoff," Dotson said. "We're looking for projects such as (TS&T) ... to keep our community ready for business and trying to get the economy going."
The HUBCAP initiative will require a time commitment of up to 19 months, Ford said.
Other members of the steering committee are: John Brown, executive director of the Brooke-Hancock Planning and Development Council; Catherine Ferrari, president and CEO of Hancock County Savings Bank; Hancock County Commissioner Jeff Davis; Chester City Clerk Sandra Parkins; Billy Greathouse of Century 21 Greathouse Realty; community volunteer Carol Farish; developer and BDC board member Bob Reed; and BDC Assistant Director Marvin Six.
"What we are strapped for in this county ... is level land that is proximate to transportation corridors, with available infrastructure," Ford said. "It's very limited."
Ford said the properties, taken together, are a "major coup" for economic development in the Northern Panhandle, but, so far, none of the inquiries have resulted in a sale or lease. Ford said non-disclosure agreements with various prospects prevent him from discussing details.
All three properties have large billboards announcing "For Sale or Lease" and a phone number. The TS&T site also is listed and promoted on the West Virginia Development Office's website for available properties. The website has, among other information, aerial photos of the cleaned-up property, a topographical map and an aerial map with floodplain information.
Local officials want to do something similar with the stadium properties in Newell and Weirton. Ford said the BDC is close to hiring a company that can take a photographer up to shoot aerial photographs.
Such photos can be posted online and used in print brochures, he said. "We haven't really showcased these three northern communities (Chester, Newell, Weirton) in literature in the past. ... The only way you can get an idea of where we are situated geographically is through aerial shots," he said.
Ford said the BDC also wants to advertise the sites in trade publications, such as Shale Play, related to the oil and gas drilling industry.
Another necessary step in making the stadium properties ready for development is a Phase I environmental assessment, Ford said. Such a study determines whether the land contains any recognized environmental hazards, he said.
Because of the stipulations of the grant funding, the Phase I assessment of the stadium properties is due today. Ford said he isn't expecting any surprises.
"We're pretty confident that we're not going to see anything that would be too startling or that would warrant a Phase II assessment on either site. They seem to be pretty clean sites," Ford said.
While a Phase I study involves checking records and interviewing people familiar with the property, a Phase II study involves taking and studying actual soil samples. Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc., of Pittsburgh, was hired to do the Phase I assessment, at a cost of about $7,000 per site, Ford said.
Newell Memorial Field is located in an area once used by the Homer Laughlin China Co. for the disposal of broken china, said Hancock County Commissioner Dan Greathouse. The old Jimmy Carey Stadium sits in close proximity to the old Weirton Steel mill.
Ford said banks will not finance the purchase of commercial property without a Phase I assessment. "We've streamlined the purchase process for a buyer by having the Phase I in hand," he said.
Ford said he is not concerned that none of the three properties - TS&T, Newell Memorial Field, Jimmy Carey - has found a buyer yet.
"I don't think they've been on the market long enough to get the breadth of exposure to the region that we really want," he said. "These stadiums are very critically located, and we want to make sure we expose them enough regionally ... to attract industry."
Greathouse said the county has received one serious inquiry about the Newell property. "Within the next three months, we'll know if this inquiry at Newell is real or not. Financing, building - all those things have to be looked at," he said.
While the bleachers at Jimmy Carey are in the process of being removed, demolition work has yet to begin at the Newell stadium. Commissioners have hired Juszczak Development to remove and scrap the old stadium equipment, including bleachers, the press box, lighting and fencing.