Buyer found for former football field

NEW CUMBERLAND – The owner of the Newell Memorial Field site has signed an exclusive option agreement with a buyer that could bring 24 new jobs to the area, Hancock County commissioners learned on Thursday. Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corporation (BDC) of the Northern Panhandle, would not discuss details of the impending sale because of a nondisclosure agreement. But in response to a query from Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller, Ford said the buyer has committed to an investment of $1.5 million in the 3.7-acre piece of property – an investment that could yield 20 to 30 new jobs. Ford, who said a formal announcement is about 60 days away, said the option agreement is “better than a letter of intent” because it means that money has changed hands and the check has cleared the bank. “We're talking about a sizable deposit,” he said. “When we sign an exclusive option agreement and the purchaser puts money down, at that point it's almost 90 percent certain that it's going to close,” he said. Ford said exclusive means “we aren't entertaining any more offers from prospects until we thoroughly vet this prospect.” The BDC bought Newell Memorial Field – and two other pieces of property – from county commissioners in December 2013 for a stipulated $500,000, although the county will not receive the purchase price until any or all the properties are sold. Commissioners, who bought two football stadiums from Hancock County Schools in December 2012, retain a security interest in the properties until they are sold or leased to a private entity. Commissioners also will receive 90 percent of the net proceeds of any sale that exceeds the $500,000 purchase price, according to the contract. “There was a time when we didn't have any sites (for economic development), so we had to find something,” Commissioner Dan Greathouse said. Ford said that of the three properties purchased by the BDC – Newell Memorial Field, the old Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton, and the former Weirton Heights Volunteer Fire Station – he was sure that the Newell site would be spoken for first. “It was an ideal site. It's beautifully situated in a wonderful community,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we found the right match for the community.” Ford, who characterized the buyer as “jobs related” and “non-residential,” said the agreement is one example of how Hancock and Brooke counties are poised for greater economic growth. Also Thursday, Ford said the Claude E. Benedum Foundation in Pittsburgh has awarded a $377,000 grant for a program that will prepare several industrial sites in the Northern Panhandle and Pennsylvania for development over the next three years. The grant will be administered by the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center for use evenly by the BDC and the Pittsburgh-based Riverside Center for Innovation. In order to get the grant, the BDC had to identify seven brownfield sites in Hancock and Brooke counties that would benefit from the Site-Ready Program, Ford said. Among the sites used in the grant application were the Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery in Chester, Newell Memorial Field, the old Jimmy Carey Stadium and two sites in New Cumberland – AL Solutions and the Resco Products Inc. New Cumberland Operation. An estimated $125,000 will be used to award site-specific grants to prepare the properties for sale and development, Ford said. Another $75,000 will be used for community development purposes, and $20,000 will be used for marketing, Ford said. “This is money that we would use after we've done all the preliminary work and we've got the prospects interested,” Ford said. “We identified sites that we thought were on the cusp of development.” Ford said the BDC has made a commitment to specific outcomes resulting from the grant, including $20 million in new investment on the targeted sites and 300 new jobs. The BDC also has applied for a $70,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do a Phase II environmental assessment of the TS&T riverbank, which is known to be contaminated with lead. “We need to finish cleaning the riverbank of TS&T because that riverside has some value,” Ford said. Ford commended commissioners for their $500,000 loan to advance the TS&T demolition and cleanup. Such public and private investments in the past four years have created a “domino effect” of 1,500 jobs either created or preserved and $43.68 million in annual payroll either created or preserved, he said.