By CRAIG HOWELL
and CASEY JUNKINS
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
WEIRTON, W.Va. — A proposed land purchase almost two years in the making that could open the door for numerous economic development projects in Weirton is moving forward.
On Wednesday, officials with the Frontier Group of Companies, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based corporation which focuses on the cleanup and redevelopment of large industrial and commercial sites, announced they had finalized the purchase of 1,100 acres of property in Weirton from ArcelorMittal Steel.
“We believe the Weirton facility, like other industrial sites we have redeveloped, has tremendous attributes and potential,” said David P. Franjoine, president of the Frontier Group of Companies. “Throughout our due diligence, and as we worked with ArcelorMittal on the details of this transaction, we have been energized by how well the site fits our expertise.”
Terms of the purchase, including the price, were not disclosed.
The property in question will include the areas of the basic oxygen process shop and related structures, the blast furnace and ore yard, rail sidings, barge loading and unloading areas, Brown’s Island and miscellaneous other plant structures.
Much of the property has been non-operational for several years.
Frontier initially entered into a contract with ArcelorMittal for the property in 2015.
“ArcelorMittal is pleased to have closed on the sale of approximately 1,100 acres of property in Weirton, W.Va. to the Frontier Group of Companies,” ArcelorMittal CEO John Brett said. “We achieved our goal of finding a purchaser with extensive experience in redeveloping a former heavy industrial site into a more productive location that benefits the city and region.
“We appreciate the patience of our employees and the Weirton community while we finalized this important transaction.”
Weirton Mayor Harold Miller expressed excitement for the announcement, noting there has been a great deal of cooperation in finalizing the purchase between the companies, local and state development officials and the city.
“The city’s responsibility is to prepare the area for development,” Miller said, noting efforts to improve infrastructure and streamline the zoning and planning process through the municipal offices. “I think we’ve done that.”
Miller said Weirton is in a prime location for development, with access to rail, river and highway transportation, as well as the proximity of natural gas-related developments, and this land purchase will help to attract additional prospects.
Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, agreed, saying there is a lot of excitement at the local and state levels as a result of the land purchase. He said the land being made available as a result of the agreement fits many of the requirements prospective manufacturing companies are looking for with the available infrastructure and larger amounts of land.
“We’ve been missing out on these national and international businesses because we didn’t have the available land,” Ford said. “You’re not going to find another site in the Ohio Valley that has it all.”
Ford said many of the prospective companies the BDC talks to are looking for sites with 50-400 acres available, especially those involved in manufacturing and energy-related firms.
According to information provided by the company, the Frontier Group has completed a number of industrial, development, energy, mixed-use, commercial and residential projects throughout North America and South America.
Among those projects is the ongoing redevelopment of the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel property in Mingo Junction, a portion of which recently was sold to ACERO Junction with plans to restart steelmaking operations at the site.
“Our history at Mingo Junction, and how we were successfully able to repurpose an idle industrial site, is an example of how we approach our work,” Franjoine said. “Now that we have completed our acquisition in Weirton, we will immediately get to work on identifying what future development and reuse possibilities exist.”
As president of United Steelworkers Local 2911, Mark Glyptis has seen a lot of changes in his 44 years working at the Weirton mill, which once employed about 15,000 people during its life as Weirton Steel Corp.
Glyptis said Frontier will demolish the basic oxygen process building along Main Street. The company will also remove the blast furnaces that have now been cold for more than a decade.
“I have mixed emotions about it — I really do,” Glyptis said in acknowledging there is now no going back for the steelmaking process at Weirton. “Over a period of time, some of the operations became obsolete and non-competitive. We have to acknowledge that the world has changed.”
Glyptis said the options for redeveloping the 1,100 acres of property in downtown Weirton are many, as he cited the convenient location along the Ohio River, along with access to U.S. 22, W.Va. 2 and Ohio 7, in addition to the close proximity to Pittsburgh International Airport.
“You can be in three different states in about 10 minutes,” Glyptis said. “The possibilities are endless. … I feel very confident we are going to get meaningful, life-sustaining jobs here.”
Glyptis cited the Royal Dutch Shell ethane cracker in development at Monaca, Pa., along with the potential PTT Global Chemical America plant in Belmont County, as operations that could spur “satellite factories.”
“The worst thing we could do is stick our head in the sand. We have to be positive about what can happen here,” he said.
The sale of the property includes Brown’s Island, the long and slender island in the middle of the Ohio River at the northern end of Weirton. Glyptis said the steel company operated a coke plant on the island until 1982.
“There has been some remediation there,” Glyptis said. “ArcelorMittal is a good environmental citizen.”
Although new steel is no longer manufactured in Weirton, Glyptis said the tin plate operation remains strong, with over 900 employees on the job.
“We are going to focus on being the best tin plate operation we can,” he said.
Weirton City Manager Travis Blosser said he is glad to see the deal take place because it allows the city to move forward.
“They were obviously defining our future to a certain extent,” Blosser said of ArcelorMittal. “We are extremely happy to finally see a transaction on this property. We have every hope and belief that this transaction will allow us to realize new development in the city of Weirton.”
Blosser said he is not certain when demolition of the obsolete structures will begin.
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