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Brooke County plant site sold to development groups

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The Northern Panhandle investment group responsible for the demolition and remediation of the old Taylor, Smith and Taylor pottery in Chester is tackling a new project — the Wheeling Corrugating property in Beech Bottom in Brooke County.

The Business Development Corp. of  the Northern Panhandle now holds title to the 616-acre property, and will partner with State Route 2 LLC, a subsidiary of  California's Hackman Capital, to market and lease the property to new business and industrial tenants.

State Route 2 LLC retains the right to retrieve equipment housed on the property, while the BDC will be responsible for remediating contaminants on the site.

At this point there's no way to predict how costly site clean up will be, but BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said as a non-profit — and because they've already proven their ability to oversee a major remediation project — his organization can ease the sting by tapping into state and federal funding. That's something Hackman Capital and its subsidiary can't do.

With 150 acres of flatland fronting on the Ohio River, Ford said it's well worth the risk.

"We're not talking eight or 10 acres, like the Taylor, Smith and Taylor site," he said. "We're talking over 600 acres with vehicular cargo access and river cargo access. This could prove to be a huge asset and a catalyst for industrialization that would capitalize on the river as well as the road network. And with flat sites with access to water and roads so scarce, it makes this opportunity all the more exciting."

Ford said the deal includes a 480,000-square-foot plant, a huge bonus.

"I can't tell you how big that is," he said. "We haven't been able to compete with Pennsylvania and Ohio for projects because they have buildings ready, that are turn-key, and we didn't have that. Now, we have almost half a million square feet of space with water, sewer, and river access that we can immediately capitalize on. We can immediately start bringing prospects to this site. It's been our intent all along to develop the land, our interest isn't in the equipment."

A spokesman for Hackman Capital characterized it as a "financial collaboration," pointing out that the shale oil and gas boom makes it an incredibly attractive proposition.

"It's an exciting opportunity for us to redevelop the site and attract new tenants,"  Hackman's Susan Skros, vice president of marketing and investor relations, said. "Really, in a lot of ways it's a gem: It's 650 acres, but 150 of them are flatlands, and the fact that it's along the river is really an opportunity."

Skros said their focus is to "work with the BDC, to develop the site and bring jobs to the area."

"It can really be built into something large, it's a great piece of land," she said.

BDC Chairman William D'Alesio said the board saw "public urgency" in cleaning up and redeveloping the site, just as it saw at Taylor, Smith and Taylor.

"We didn't want this site to be another unchecked, deteriorating, and abandoned site owned by an absentee party," he said. "It's preferable to keep decision-making as to our future in local hands."

Beech Bottom Mayor George Lewis said the project "will help breathe life back into" the village and said it "really highlights the strength of the partnership between the BDC, the County Commissions, and the Village of Beech Bottom."

"Hopefully  it will be huge, not only for Beech Bottom but also for Brooke County," he said. "With the way the economy is, we can't predict what will happen but we've all got high hopes."

Ford, meanwhile, said it's no accident that the BDC has tackled major projects at the farthest borders of its service territory.

"It goes back to when I was first hired by the BDC, I was told there was concern this organization was ‘Weirton-centric,'" he said. "They wanted to make sure the BDC represents all of Brooke County and all of Hancock County…Those opportunities don't present themselves overnight, we have to constantly be on the lookout for them."