WEIRTON — The Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle will use a $300,000 federal grant to map out a strategy for reusing an 1,100 acre parcel in Weirton that at one time was part of the city’s steel business, Executive Director Pat Ford said Thursday.
The grant came from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which awarded $30 million to 35 projects in 15 states Wednesday under the 2017 Assistance to Coal Communities (ACC 2017) initiative. The funding is intended to aid locally-driven economic recovery efforts in communities severely impacted by the declining use of coal, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said.
A total of $8.3 million in ACC grant money was awarded to West Virginia.
“This is probably, in our opinion, the best opportunity for us to attract some of these larger energy downstream energy-related facilities that have been shopping sites in the Ohio River Valley,” Ford said. “What’s critical about this investment, you won’t find any other property in the Ohio River Valley intact with all of the critical infrastructure in place to support development of the industry clusters we’ve been recruiting for the past seven years.”
Ford said the BDC was awarded a $200,000 EDA grant about seven years ago to develop a similar plan for Brooke and Hancock counties, which identified industry clusters — energy, chemical, value-added metals, transportation logistics and health care — that would make best use of the available sites in the two counties. Ford said their success in using that first plan has a lot to do with the EDA’s willingness to give them another $300,000.
“We were able to demonstrate to EDA that we’d attracted about $170 million in private investments in those targeted industry clusters in Brooke and Hancock counties,” he said. “We told them we are confident we can get $50 million in investments and create 500 jobs (with the new grant). That’s the story we told in the grant, and we’re confident we can deliver it.”
The BDC is partnering with Frontier Group, current owner of the property, and the City of Weirton, which provided $100,000 in cash and in-kind services. Because the ACC grants are ultra-competitive, the city also hired Washington, D.C.-based Sustainable Strategies to prepare the grant application.
Ford said the master plan will be a “road map” to provide shovel-ready sites for industrial and manufacturing businesses in Weirton, which has a shortage of developable land with rail and river service,
“What happens on this site over the next 10 years could transform the face of the City of Weirton,” he said. “They saw the importance of it, and they illustrated it with their commitment (to provide matching funds for the grant).”
Weirton City Manager Travis Blosser said the master plan will provide strategic recommendations “for pursuing advanced manufacturing, infrastructure improvements and community revitalization initiatives to support the transformation of Weirton and the Northern Panhandle region.”
“We knew this plan would be a lot more detailed because this one is site-specific,” Ford added. “We want to get into the minutiae — what buildings are best suited to be preserved to accommodate the industries we’re recruiting, where public roads should be built or extended through the site, utilities — to maximize our ability to use every square foot of that site. This is going to be a true master plan for development.”
On hand for the announcement were Acting EDA Head Dennis Alvord and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, who BDC Executive Director William D’Alesio said had been “very clear that energy, brownfields development and entrepreneurship are critical to economic development in West Virginia.” D’Alesio said Capito’s support is critical to repurpose the Weirton property “to attract new businesses and industries to the region as well as serve the thousands living in West Virginia’s northern panhandle.”
Staff writer Linda Harris can be reached at 304-374-0403 or email firstname.lastname@example.org