Out of the rubble

STEUBENVILLE – The buildings still are being demolished and the two blast furnaces that date back more than 100 years are scheduled for an implosion demolition in June.

The physical face of the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. Steubenville plant is undergoing a major change as Strauss Industries of Wheeling continues its work to remove the aging and rusting structures that were home to a booming steel industry for more than 150 years.

And, according to Chief Operating Officer Ken Burns, the end result will be new businesses at the industrial site with jobs and the opportunity for economic development.

“I have had my eye on this property for probably the past 10 years. But I had to wait until we had the opportunity to purchase this property in 2011 after RG Steel filed bankruptcy,” Burns explained during a Tuesday morning tour of the 119-acre site.

“Some of these buildings date back to 1904. We will demolish and remove a number of structures and save buildings we can use in the future. We also plan to move our scrap operations from Weirton to this site where it will be under a roof and will be a more equipment-oriented operation,” said Burns.

Burns and Chief Financial Officer John McDonald agreed to meet Tuesday morning with city officials and the city planning and zoning commission to explain their plans for the future.

“The city is all eyes and ears as far as the future development and the opportunity to sell you or your tenants water. We welcome you to the community,” stated Steubenville Mayor and Acting City Manager Domenick Mucci.

“We have spent more than $5 million, including the $1 million Clean Ohio Assistance grant, to clean up any asbestos on the site as well as demolish and remove the scrap buildings. Add in the pre-work expenditures and we are closer to $6 million,” cited Burns.

“We have a very open relationship with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. So far we have drilled 233 wells throughout the site to make sure we find anything and everything that needs to be cleaned up. There is nothing taboo for the OEPA to look at. We are doing everything they want us to do and more,” emphasized Burns.

“At this point we have 40 local employees which include Strauss Industries employees as well as outside contractors. We will probably have close to 50 employees on site by the end of the summer. And we are on track to have the main area cleaned and finished by the end of July,” Burns continued.

“The potential for this property is amazing. We are currently negotiating with a large company interested in locating here. We are not looking for short-term tenants but we are interested in companies that want to be here for the next 30 years,” Burns said.

Burns is preparing for what he believes will be a business boom in the Midwest.

“The Panama Canal is preparing to re-open in 2014 and we believe that will mean the Los Angeles docks will be slowing down and the docks in New Orleans will be building up again. You will see a major increase in river traffic starting next year. We want to be prepared for that event and are looking for potential development of the property along the river,” remarked Burns.

“We have a great transportation system in this area with the highways and river. Transportation is key to our business and our plans include changing the rail system into the property,” he said.

McDonald cited, “the tremendous amount of progress during the past nine months.”

“We have received tremendous support on this project from the state of Ohio, JobsOhio and PNC Bank,” McDonald said.

“This is a work in progress and we are going to do it the right way. We are planning to redesign the entrance to the property so it looks more appealing for people driving by on state Route 7. I keep thinking about saving and renovating the office building, which dates back to the LaBelle Works. It will need major repairs but I think it could be an asset for us,” said Burns, who laughed when he was asked about the cut lawn surrounding the 109-year-old brick structure.

“We plan to bring in someone to do some landscaping, including trimming the trees back. We want to make our property look better,” Burns said.

“Redevelopment of the overall River Rail property is expected to generate approximately 50 new jobs.

“Additional jobs are expected as the property is redeveloped and leased. Property redevelopment is also expected to generate income and property tax benefits for the city as well,” Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi has told the planning commission members.

“The cleanup will include proper removal and disposal of asbestos material in accordance with applicable local, state and federal regulations followed by the demolition of the structures to clear the property for redevelopment,” Petrossi said.

“I really believe this general area is prime for future development. The taxes are more reasonable than other areas and this is a good area for housing development. We are excited to be here and a part of the future,” Burns noted.