BDC purchases former Follansbee Steel site for future redevelopment
FOLLANSBEE — The former Follansbee Steel location has been shuttered for four years, but it’s about to get a whole new look.
The Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle closed on the property for more than $1.3 million Thursday and have awarded a contract for the brownfield remediation assessment to Civil Environment Consultants of Export, Pa., according to BDC Executive Director Pat Ford.
Ford said the West Virginia Economic Development Authority granted a $1.3 million loan for the purchase and the Northern West Virginia Brownfield Assistance Center awarded a $12,500 grant for a boundary survey and Phase 1 environmental assessment required for the loan.
Jim Andreozzi, Brooke County Commissioner and BDC executive board member, said the site “has some environmental concerns and the BDC will undertake a process of remediating it. And now, we have an opportunity to put it back to use. For over four years, the site has been vacant. Now, we’re planning for an end use that will have people working on the site again. That has been the mission of the BDC and Brooke and Hancock county commissions over the past five years, to reclaim B.A.D. — brownfield, abandoned and dilapidated — properties, develop them and put people back to work on these properties.”
BDC and Brooke County officials visited the site Thursday to discuss future plans. Ford envisions selling parcels to two to three new businesses, possibly in the energy, metals or transportation industries.
“The reason why (the property) is so valuable to us — so valuable to the Northern Panhandle — is its access: river, rail and highway,” he said.
Follansbee City Manager John DeStefano said he was aware the purchase was pending and is pleased to hear it’s complete.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction for the property and I’m looking forward to what they may do with it,” he said, adding he and other city officials will assist the BDC by providing whatever information is needed by potential tenants.
“Hopefully one or multiple businesses will open there and bring more jobs to the city,” DeStefano said.
Mayor David Velegol Jr. said, “We’re definitely excited about the purchase and looking forward to great things coming to the south end of the city.”
Velegol noted the BDC has a record of redeveloping unused industrial sites, and he’s happy to hear the group plans to clean up the Follansbee Steel site.
The redevelopment will be similar to that of the former Wheeling Corrugating Plant, a brownfield property redeveloped as an industrial park in Beech Bottom.
The first thing the BDC will address is its “curb appeal.”
“There are a lot of weeds here, and we’ve got to address that immediately,” Ford said.
The environmental assessments might take as long as four months, and following that, the BDC will seek bids for the brownfield remediation some time in 2017.
Plans call for a portion of $600,000 in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funds awarded to Brooke, Hancock and Jefferson counties to be used for the cleanup.
“We are going to be marketing this (property) immediately,” Ford said. “Businesses are combing this area looking for sites with access, and the only reason this site hasn’t been purchased before is the contaminants. We’re going to clean it up and put it back on the market.”
He said the impending development of an ethane cracker plant in Monaca, Pa., has generated much interest in the region from other companies, and two or three have expressed interest in the Follansbee Steel site.
Ford estimated it would take approximately 18 months to mediate the site, and assured those living near the property that rubble would be removed as part of the mediation, which will begin once CEC’s assessment is complete and a bid for the work accepted.
“Just as the former Follansbee Steel plant was been an economic engine for Follansbee and Brooke County for more than a century, the repurposing of this site will be made possible by the powerful economic engine that are the energy and value-added steel sectors of our regional economy,” William D’Alesio, BDC board chair, said.
As the new owner of the site, the BDC will work with the state Department of Environmental Protection to complete remediation of the site begun by the Berkman family.
“Repurposing these former mill sites is essential to the economic growth of our communities,” Ford said. “These sites have been in the fabric of our communities for over a century, which is why we respect our industrial heritage while planning for economic opportunities on the same sites that have sustained our communities for generations.”
The BDC has been involved in the remediation and repurposing of several properties in Brooke and Hancock counties. The organization’s projects are ongoing and have to date cost just under $2.5 million for cleanup alone.
“I am pleased that the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle has taken the next step in their commitment to the purchase and revitalization of the former Follansbee Steel site,” Keith Burdette, state Secretary of Commerce, said.
“We believe this site has advantages that will attract industrial development and create jobs for hard-working West Virginians.”
The former Follansbee Steel site is part of a larger 59-acre acquisition of Berkman Co. holdings in Follansbee, and brings the BDC’s real estate inventory to almost 600,000 square feet of building space and approximately 700 acres of real estate.
Ford said the purchase also includes smaller properties south of the plant site and along the Ohio River and a wooded area of the hillside overlooking the city. He said no plans have been made for those sites at this time.
Tim Ennis, Brooke County Commission president and BDC board member, said, “I want to thank our amazing partners for making this purchase possible.’
“So many people were intimately involved in this transaction, including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin; Burdette; state EDA Executive Director David Warner; Patricia Hickman, director of land restoration of the state Department of Environmental Protection; Patrick Kirby of the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center; and Robert F. Schultz, legal counsel for the Louis Berkman Co. and family.
“Time and again, our partners across the state, our local elected officials and business leaders, our technical service providers, our funders, and our banks, work with us to create an opportunity to make it possible to keep these former mills and abandoned properties in local hands to be repurposed for future employment opportunities.”
Follansbee Steel can be traced back to its tinplate production 1904. The company and city got its name from brothers John and Robert Follansbee, who purchased the operation and opened the plant in 1902.
The Steubenville-based Louis Berkman Co. purchased the plant in 1954, shortly thereafter selling its basic steel production operation to what was then Wheeling Steel while retaining its Terne steel sheet line.
Robert Schultz, who served as general counsel for the Berkman Co., said Louis Berkman “loved Follansbee, and loved the business (Follansbee Steel) in Follansbee.”
Schultz added, “I am equally thrilled that the Berkman family sold its real estate holdings in Follansbee to the BDC.”
(Staff writer Warren Scott contributed to this report.)