ELYRIA — An environmental study will focus on the former General Industries site.
While the study is not the much-anticipated announcement of a cleanup, redevelopment and jobs for the property ravaged by fire in 2008, Mayor Holly Brinda said the state has pledged $200,000 for an environmental review.
“This is a must-happen for this property if we ever want to make it attractive for redevelopment,” she said. “No one, including the city, can take on the liability of that property without knowing what is underneath.”
City Council will be asked to authorize the mayor to apply for the funding.
Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large, said the matter will be discussed Monday during the Finance Committee meeting.
“We have been spinning our wheels with this issue for going on six years while we have many businesses that have looked at an eyesore for just as long,” he said. “The question has always been: What can we do?”
The six-figure sum will be used to study the ground beneath the property, where it is believed environmental contaminates and old fuel storage tanks are hidden, making the three conjoined parcels a land mine of potential hazards for any construction project.
Councilman Larry Tanner, D-1st Ward, said he is firmly behind the study — the property sits in his ward — and what could come from it. Worse-case scenario, he just wants a clean site that is pleasing to the eye, but ideally he said he would like to see a manufacturer take up residence at the Olive Street location.
“There are so many people who are completely disgusted with that whole scene,” he said. “They are wondering what we are going to do over there, and it would be nice to finally tell them there is a plan.”
Brinda said the grant, from the Ohio Development Services Agency and JobsOhio, is all but guaranteed to the city if an application is submitted by March 10 and the funds are used for assessment only.
A letter to Brinda dated Jan. 23 and signed by Ryan Burgess, assistant director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, and John Minor, president and CIO of JobsOhio, outlined the offer to the city.
“Development and JobsOhio will work closely with you to ensure the city benefits from making the proposed investment in Ohio,” the letter said. “We believe this offer of assistance allows the State of Ohio to support the City’s proposed project and address the City’s project needs.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also agreed to complete an environmental assessment, which is required by the state before the city can apply for the money.
For Brinda, the best part of the package revolves around John Peshek, who owns the property.
Peshek has given the city a land access agreement for both studies and is willing to donate the property to the city for redevelopment once the studies are complete and the city has a firm grasp on the environmental liabilities.
While a promising step, Brinda said the studies serve as no guarantee that something more than what is seen today — a snow-covered, weed-infested debris pile highlighted by a crumbling building — will come anytime soon.
The assessment only will give city officials a clearer picture of what it will take to make the property attractive to a new company.
“We have $200,000 today we wouldn’t have any other way,” Brinda said. “We’ll take it and go from there.”
The manufacturing facility burned in early July 2008, but with an uninsured property owner and concerns about asbestos, finding a plan to clear the block since that time has proven difficult. The property has both federal and local liens related to demolition and cleanup work that took place after the fire to keep asbestos out of the surrounding neighborhood.
Nothing substantial initiated by Peshek or the EPA has happened on the site since 2010.
A June 2013 assessment by a company the city hired to look at surface problems came back with a report calling for more than $460,000 in work. The cost estimate includes demolishing a steam building, removing the remaining concrete building slabs, removing a pit and vault, abating asbestos-containing building materials and removing two underground storage tanks that are known to remain on the property.
Brinda knows this newest study will only make the price tag for remediation grow larger. She said she has already reached out to every state and federal agency and official she can think of asking for financial help to clear the site.
More than a dozen businesses employing more than 2,600 employees operate within a two-mile radius of the site. As such, the economic fallout should a business weary of looking at the eyesore pull out of Elyria is something Brinda said she has been driving home to everyone who will listen.
“This is in the heart of our industrial and manufacturing corridor, and our other manufacturers are not happy,” she said. “They may not want to publicly say as much, but many private conversations have been had about the former General Industries site. This finally gives us something tangible to tell the business community, letting them know we are going to keep working at this until something happens.”