Staying busy at the BDC
The Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, last week, was acknowledged for working with state and local officials to bring Gruppo Fanti, an Italian can manufacturer, to Weirton’s Half Moon Industrial Park.
But it is just one of several projects being pursued by the economic development group, said Marvin Six, its executive director.
He said the BDC has cleared major hurdles in the development of two properties at each end of Brooke County.
Six said the Beech Bottom Industrial Park and the former Follansbee Steel property have received a certificate of completion from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
Six said the status means environmental cleanups of the two locations have been done to the state DEP’s satisfaction and is key to their being redeveloped by future private entities.
“That’s what everybody goes for when they are working on environmental cleanups,” he said, adding it shows potential developers they face no pre-existing environmental liability if they acquire the property and helps them to secure loans.
The economic development group obtained a $1.3 million loan from the West Virginia Economic Development Authority and a $12,500 grant through the Northern West Virginia Brownfield Assistance Center to purchase 22 acres once occupied by Follansbee Steel in 2016.
Opened in 1902 by John and Robert Follansbee, brothers from Pittsburgh, the steel mill employed hundreds, drew many immigrants to the area, and spurred the development of the city that bears the family name.
A preliminary assessment showed some petroleum-based material associated with heavy truck activity, but little physical work was needed at the site, said Six.
About 3.5 acres were sold to Wheeling Nippon Steel, a steel-coating facility nearby. The remaining property was divided by the BDC into two lots in an effort to attract more developers.
He noted its close proximity to the Ohio River and easy access to a railroad that runs by it are strong selling points.
Six said the BDC also has received a certificate of completion for the Beech Bottom Industrial Park.
The property includes a 480,000-square-foot building and 60-acre property that once was home to the Wheeling Corrugating Plant.
After RG Steel, the last owner of the steel finishing facility, declared bankruptcy, Los Angeles investment firm Hackman Capital bought the property for $4.4 million, then sold it to the BDC for $200,000.
The two formed a partnership in which Hackman retained rights to the building and equipment there while the BDC held the title to the land.
Hackman invested $1.5 million in improvements to the building while the BDC secured more than $1 million in public funds for environmental remediation of the site.
The cleanup included the removal of hazardous materials in the soil and drums remaining in the plant and the plant’s wastewater treatment system.
Six said Hackman has since bowed out but serving in a similar fashion is JAC, a private investment firm affiliated with Jupiter Aluminum, an aluminum recycling business operating there.
Six said since moving into the former plant in 2013, the company has spent several million dollars refurbishing its former paint line and making other improvements and now owns a second paint line that had seen little use after being installed for the corrugating plant around 2001.
He added the firm also is installing a new, multimillion dollar air handling system.
In addition to Jupiter Aluminum, the industrial park is occupied by crews with Southwestern Energy, who use it as a base for natural gas drilling operations; Tenaris, an international company that supplies pipe for the oil and gas industry; L&M Logistics, which provides escort vehicles for large trucks traveling to and from drill sites; and RapidFire Rentals, which supplies portable living accommodations for natural gas and other workers.
Rolled off trucks, the portable structures resemble homes inside and include water, sewer and other amenities, said Six.
He said the BDC hopes soon to receive a certificate of completion for the former Brooke Glass building that it acquired in 2014.
The BDC has used about $240,000 in federal, state and local funds to assess and perform environmental remediation of the two-story building and the 2-acre site on which it sits.
Six said initially the BDC thought it would have to demolish the 140-year-old structure. But he said they learned later its central section, which had been occupied by the company’s production line, was structurally sound.
He said when a new occupant is found, the building will include a display noting its status as the last of many glass factories that operated in the city.
The move is required to comply with the state’s Office of Historic Preservation and a condition of it receiving state funds, but is in keeping with efforts by the BDC to preserve its history.
During the last several years it has donated glass samples and other items found there to the Brooke County Museum.
Six said to perform such cleanups the BDC has secured grants from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
A maximum of $200,000 currently is available every two or three years and recipients must have spent at least 70 percent before applying again, he said.
Six said to determine the need for cleanups and their extent, the BDC has secured grants of varying amounts through the EPA’s Targeted Brownfield Access program, often while working with the Jefferson County Port Authority and Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission.
He said competition for the grants is high.
“A 95 score of 100 (possible points) may get you a grant,” Six said.
He said by securing public funds not available to private businesses, the BDC is able to make land and buildings that might otherwise remain vacant available for use.
“We take something that has different characteristics that make it not acceptable for use and change those characteristics so a potential owner can be comfortable with having that property,” Six said.
Brooke County Commissioner A.J. Thomas, who represents the commission on the BDC’s executive board, said development of the former Follansbee Steel and Brooke Glass properties would be a great benefit to the local economy.
“Both of those properties could be real game-changers for Brooke County. And (development of) Brooke Glass especially would be a real boon for Wellsburg,” he said.