Detroit Avenue industrial site nearing completion

Detroit Avenue industrial site nearing completion

March 3, 2013
Land near Prime Plastics and Multi-Chem off East Maiden Street in Washington has been sold to the two companies. Multi-Chem plans to add a second building on the property. - Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Redevelopment of the site of the fabled tire fire is wheeling toward completion.

The final parcels in Detroit Avenue business park in Washington have been sold to the two businesses there, Prime Plastics and Multi-Chem. Each company essentially purchased half of the available land from the Redevelopment Authority of Washington County.

RACW has managed the remediation and rehabilitation of what had been a brownfield, a former industrial property that was damaged environmentally and had to be reclaimed before it could be reused.

Multi-Chem, headquartered in San Angelo, Texas, is an oil and gas support services firm that supplies chemicals to companies working in Marcellus Shale. It ships them by train via a railroad line fronting the operation. Houston-based Halliburton owns Multi-Chem.

Prime Plastics, based here, produces a variety of consumer plastics goods. Officials at both businesses could not be reached for comment.

Those firms’ buildings, an active railroad line and two rail spurs are virtually the only entities on Detroit Avenue, which can be accessed just from East Maiden Street. The park covers 11.5 acres and is adjacent to Maiden Business Park.

Premier Auto, on East Maiden Street, bought the remaining 0.3 of an acre to add parking space for cars, said Bill McGowen, executive director of the RACW. Preparing that strip, the replacement of a sanitary sewer line and Multi-Chem’s planned construction of a second, smaller building are the only projects that have to be finished on that land.

“Our title is ‘Redevelopment Authority of the County of Washington.’ This is an excellent example of part of our mission,” said Susan Morgan, brownfields and municipal planning manager for the RACW.

Almost exactly 16 years ago, a seemingly unextinguishable fire transformed Detroit Avenue into an extremely toxic brownfield. A Washington teenager set the blaze Feb. 27, 1997, in a building that had been used by Natural Granulating, which recycled tires. That company had shut a year earlier and a large volume of tires remained inside.

Ball Glass had occupied that building for many years before shuttering in the 1980s.

It took firefighters, working almost round-the clock, 10 days to put out the blaze, which contaminated air, water and soil. Small particles of rubber were everywhere on the site and disbursed for miles through surrounding communities.

Detroit Avenue remained vacant for eight years. Prime Plastics began operations there two years later, in 2007, and Multi-Chem opened shop in early 2010.

The redevelopment authority worked with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the state Department of Community and Economic Development and the property’s owner, Detroit Street Partners, to make the land usable again. The DEP forgave a large lien against the property for cleanup costs, then the DCED committed $1.7 million for site development.

Half of the proceeds from the recent land sales were remitted to the DEP in accordance with a consent order and agreement forged in 2005.

A lot of time, labor and money have been devoted to resurrecting Detroit Avenue – from Redevelopment Authority staff work to environmental testing to remediation to construction to business operation.

Utilities were installed, along with the rail spurs; two industrial buildings were renovated; and an office building and transfer facility were built.

The financial equation includes $6 million from private investors and $1.7 million in state funding.

All of that has paid off in the creation of more than 100 jobs between the two businesses and an increase in tax revenues for the city, county and Washington School District.

“We were able to leverage $6 million in private dollars,” McGowen said. “It’s really good when you can leverage private dollars and create jobs.

“We’ve transformed a blighted brownfield into a vibrant property,” Morgan said. “There’s much more tax revenue being generated than when you have a blighted site.”

Brownfields, not surprisingly, are common in Washington County because of its industrial heritage. Morgan said her office asked all municipalities in the county to identify brownfield sites within their borders, resulting in a list of about 135.

Brownfield projects are prioritized according to circumstances, she said, adding that the Redevelopment Authority has been involved in “probably 15” in recent years.

It takes a tireless effort –especially when tires are involved.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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