TS&T site decision may come soon

CHESTER – Although it sat vacant for 30 years, the Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery site will not take nearly as long to find new tenants.

In fact, an announcement may be just weeks away.

Officials with the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle, the chief economic development authority for Hancock and Brooke counties, have been working with three prospects from the oil and gas industry that are interested in the Chester site.

“Two of the companies, we’re looking at hearing a decision within the next six weeks,” said BDC Executive Director Patrick Ford.

All three prospects are involved with manufacturing, Ford said, and all three have made multiple visits to Chester. One has made four trips from out of state, and another, from Europe, has made five trips.

“Because of today’s markets and the amount of money these companies are investing, you generally don’t come to terms on an agreement after one meeting,” Ford said. “It should take this much time to close a deal. We just remain patient and steadfast in making sure that we do not leave any question unanswered or any stone unturned.”

Helping the BDC in its efforts is the fact that the TS&T pottery site is now listed and promoted on the West Virginia Development Office’s website for available properties. A delegation from the WVDO came to Chester in January to scope out the property and gather information for posting to the website, WVDO.org.

Companies that search the Internet for developable land in the United States can now find a wealth of information about the TS&T site online, including location, size, transportation and utilities.

The website has aerial photos of the cleaned-up property, a topographical map, a map showing Chester’s location relative to the rest of the state, and an aerial map with floodplain information.

“What people really like about the area is its central location in the Marcellus and Utica shale exploration,” Ford said. “And all the prospects are really excited about the volume and quality of the labor pool that they can draw from.”

Prospects also have researched and commented on the skills of the workforce, the area’s investment in education, including the building of a new elementary school in Weirton, and the quality of life in Hancock County, Ford said.

Ford also has been showing the recently-acquired Wheeling Currugating property in Beech Bottom, which the BDC bought in November from bankrupt RG Steel, as well as the two football stadiums purchased by Hancock County commissioners in December.

The BDC bought the old TS&T site in June 2011 for $135,000, ending 30 years of speculation about what would happen to the closed pottery. Work on demolishing the buildings and remediating the hazardous materials, including asbestos, on the eight-and-a-half-acre site began in April 2012 and was completed in December.

Total cost of demolition and remediation was $1.1 million – a funding package gathered from West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Hancock County commissioners, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other sources.

As with the cleanup, marketing of the site for economic development purposes also is dependent on cooperation from local government, Ford said.

“Our city officials, county officials, state delegates and senators … are quick to respond with everything (companies) need to make the decision to locate to West Virginia in general, and the Northern Panhandle in particular,” he said. “We want ’em here.”

Chester is more attractive to the European prospect, whom Ford cannot identify because of a non-disclosure agreement, because of TS&T’s close proximity to the community.

“The Chester site … molds well with the European model. They want to be part of a campus setting in a community,” Ford said. “When you look at extending a walking trail along the (Ohio) River, pedestrian connections to the central business district, it lends itself to a campus setting – and it stands out to the European prospects.”

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)