RG Steel building in Wheeling is closing

WHEELING – With the front doors of Market Street’s tallest structure locked Thursday, the single reminder of the once-proud Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. is a rug lying in the entryway of its longtime headquarters.

At the same time – but also in the wake of RG Steel’s 2012 bankruptcy and liquidation – officials with Esmark Inc. and United Steelworkers Local 1223 are preparing to start the Yorkville plant, which is now known as the Ohio Cold Rolling Co.

“We are just working through a number of activities such as winterizing the Yorkville plant, negotiating supply agreements, energy contracts and other start-up measures,” Esmark spokesman Bill Keegan said Thursday regarding the facility his company spent about $4.7 million to purchase as part of the RG Steel bankruptcy.

During the summer, officials with Esmark considered purchasing the downtown Wheeling building from RG. However, Esmark Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James P. Bouchard ultimately decided against making a bid for the downtown structure and the Wheeling Corrugating brand. He instead entered a venture to purchase RG’s Yorkville plant, as well as a 50-percent stake in the nearby Ohio Coatings Co. tin plate production facility.

The Wheeling Corrugating website is now off-line. Also, the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle purchased the 600-acre Wheeling Corrugating property in Beech Bottom.

A Market Street staple since 1905, the future of the large Wheeling RG Steel structure is uncertain. Wheeling city leaders are in the midst of an urban redevelopment project, clearing the 1100 block of Market and Main streets, as well as an area in East Wheeling.

Esmark previously owned all the former Wheeling-Pitt facilities before selling them to Russian steelmaker OAO Severstal for $1.23 billion in July 2008. Severstal, after idling the Steubenville and Mingo Junction plants in 2009, later sold these plants to RG.

That company liquidated its assets after filing for bankruptcy last year.

Although activity at the Wheeling headquarters has ceased, there are now about 10 workers at the Yorkville facility for “asset protection,” according to USW 1223 President Jerry Conners. However, the mill could soon be humming with activity again, as Esmark officials hope to restart the plant by spring.

“Food cans, trays and oil filters – those are some of the products that could come from the material we will make,” said Conners. “I know they (Esmark) have been contacting potential customers. Right now, it is just sort of a waiting game.”

Tom Modrowski, chief executive officer of Esmark Steel Group, the steel operating subsidiary of Esmark Inc., has said the company will focus on being a “premier supplier of both cold-rolled and tin plate products.”

Union members recently voted 194-24 to accept Esmark’s contract offer in hopes of getting back to work. Conners said the average employee wage in the Esmark deal is $21.64 per hour, down from about $26 per hour under the last RG agreement.

Even though he said workers were not pleased “to go backwards on their wages,” he said most realized they would have to make some sacrifices to see that the Ohio Cold Rolling startup is a successful venture.