Brooke economic board to inventory available land

WELLSBURG – The Brooke County Economic Development Authority made plans Wednesday to gather information about property available for economic development.

Norm Schwertfeger, board vice chairman, said there are plans to update an old inventory of vacant property and buildings that may become home to new businesses.

The inventory was produced by E.L. Robinson Engineering in 2004.

Schwertfeger noted in 2008 Valley Ventures of Wheeling created an inventory of vacant buildings along state Route 2 in Follansbee to support efforts by the city and Follansbee Chamber of Commerce to fill them.

He suggested the effort should be expanded to include other areas of the county.

County Assessor Tom Oughton said he can compile maps of such properties, including the surrounding infrastructure and topography, that could be posted on a website accessible to businesses outside this area.

Schwertfeger suggested the properties could be broken into categories, such as vacant lots or buildings, to help businesses easily identify those that meet their needs.

Weirton Mayor George Kondik, a member of the group, said it and the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle need to let property owners and Realtors know they are available to help promote such properties.

Schwertfeger said the two groups have been working more closely to encourage development in the region.

He reported on a recent tour of the former Wheeling Culvert Plant by members of both groups and Beech Bottom officials.

The 480,000-square-foot building and 616 acres between state Route 2 and the Ohio River in Beech Bottom were sold to Hackman Capital of Los Angeles, which in turn sold the land rights to the property to the BDC.

BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said earlier Hackman is interested in the plant’s equipment but also plans to work with the development organization to find a new occupant for the site. Ford also has asked the county economic development authority to assist it in that endeavor.

Schwertfeger said during the tour, the group was impressed by the enormous space available and learned cranes and other pieces of equipment are in good working condition. Many were tagged for an auction to be held in Weirton, he added.

The Brooke County board had been planning to hold a community roundtable with state and local officials. But Schwertfeger said that may be tabled while plans are carried out for a proposed gathering of officials and representatives of the natural gas industry suggested by Brooke County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi.

Andreozzi said such a meeting would open much needed dialog between local officials and the industry that could address environmental concerns spurred by natural gas drilling while also maximizing benefits for the county.

He also has suggested producing a brochure detailing various local services, from lodging and restaurants to local doctors and dentists, available to visiting gas well workers and their families while on extended stays here.

In other business, the development authority agreed to join the West Virginia Economic Development Authority, a commitment that involves a $100 yearly membership fee.

Dave Lieving, manager of business expansion and retention for the West Virginia Development Office, told the group the state Economic Development Council meets twice a year – once with state legislators in Charleston and once for a conference covering various economic issues.

Schwertfeger said the state group’s next conference will be held Tuesday and Wednesday in Charleston and cover such topics as local port authorities, broadband access and health care reform. Though the news came on short notice, the group hopes to send representatives to the event.