Hancock County sells spots for development to BDC

NEW CUMBERLAND – A year after buying two vacated high school football stadiums, Hancock County commissioners have decided to sell the stadiums and a third property to the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle.

Commissioners approved a contract with the BDC on Thursday that stipulates a purchase price of $500,000 for all three properties – Newell Memorial Field, the old Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton and the former Weirton Heights Volunteer Fire Station, 1331 Pennsylvania Ave.

As owner, the BDC will continue to market the properties for economic development purposes, while commissioners will retain a “security interest” in the properties until they are sold or leased to a private entity, BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said.

Commissioners will not be paid the purchase price until the BDC sells any or all of the properties, Ford said.

“In all cases, (commissioners) will, in effect, have a lien on the property. … Once we sell each property and give them the money, they will release their security interest on that property,” Ford said.

Commissioners also will receive 90 percent of the net proceeds of any sale that exceeds the $500,000 purchase price, Ford said.

Commissioner Dan Greathouse said the sale was necessitated by the fact that the BDC, as the recognized economic development authority for Hancock and Brooke counties, is better equipped to conduct such business.

“We need to have someone who can market those properties. We’re not marketers of property, and we have every confidence that the BDC will deal with this correctly,” Greathouse said. “They’re the experts in this field.”

Greathouse said he hopes the sale will yield results in the form of jobs.

“I think it bodes well for the county. Things are moving forward,” he said. “We’ve had some nibbles out there.”

The purchase agreement stipulates that the properties be used “primarily” for industrial and commercial purposes, something Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller was pleased to hear.

“I think the public is concerned about something being put in there that’s not suitable for the area or the environment,” Swartzmiller said.

According to the contract, the properties may not be used for agricultural purposes, residential purposes or any unlawful or illegal purposes.

The properties also may not be used for gambling purposes or the sale of alcohol products, “except in conjunction with a legitimate food-based business deriving at least 80 percent of its revenue from the sale of food and non-alcoholic beverages,” the contract reads.

Commissioners have enlisted the help of the BDC since they first considered purchasing the stadiums in November 2012. Ending months of speculation about the stadiums’ future owner, commissioners bought the two properties from the Hancock County school board for $400,000 in December 2012.

“Your acquisition of these two sites is going to be critical to get us back into the game,” Ford told commissioners in November 2012.

Ford said the plan all along was for the BDC to purchase and market the properties. It took this long for the sale to be finalized because officials were waiting on, among other things, a Phase I environmental assessment of the properties, he said.

“We don’t like to go into these types of sales unless we’ve done our due diligence,” Ford said. “Once the (environmental assessments) came back in good shape, we decided to proceed with working out a contract. It took time to get to this point.”

A Phase I assessment involves checking records and determines whether the land contains any recognized environmental hazards. Banks typically will not finance the purchase of commercial property without a Phase I study.

Ford said the future for all three sites looks good because they fit the size – 3.5 acres to 20 acres – and the location that business prospects are looking for.

“You all have hit a sweet spot with (these properties),” he said.

Also Thursday, commissioners:

– Approved the resignation of Albert Jesse Mestrovic III from the county parks and recreation board and the Brooke Hancock Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Mestrovic, assistant superintendent of Tomlinson Run State Park, is leaving to take a position with the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District in Ohio.

– Approved the reappointment of Del Wright to the Hancock County Public Service District.

– Approved the hiring of Terri Sisinni by the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department as a courtroom bailiff and courthouse security officer.

– Authorized the 911 Dispatch Center to advertise for a full-time dispatcher.