CHESTER - Marketing two old Hancock County football stadiums for economic development purposes means looking at them from two angles - above and below.
Economic development officials soon may be flying in helicopters to take aerial photos that will give prospects a better view of the properties. Meanwhile, they're anticipating a report that will reveal whether the soil on either site contains hazardous materials.
Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, said aerial photos and an environmental assessment will go a long way toward attracting potential developers to the sites and preparing the way for future development.
AVAILABLE — A “For Sale or Lease” sign at Newell Memorial Field announces the availability of 3.7 acres of developable land. Hancock County commissioners bought the property from Hancock County Schools late last year, but inquiries since then have been few.
"Most of the inquiries we're getting for the stadiums and TS&T are related to gas and oil and transportation logistics," Ford said. "What makes those properties particularly hot ... is that these areas are centrally located where the primary exploration in the Marcellus and Utica shale is. ... People have their feelers out, and they're interested in these properties."
The properties include the old Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery factory in Chester that was demolished and cleaned up last year. The pottery sat vacant and blighted for 30 years after it closed in 1981. The BDC, the recognized economic development authority for Brooke and Hancock counties, bought the 8.5-acre site in 2011, paving the way for its reclamation as a potential site for future business.
Also in 2012, the Hancock County commissioners bought two football stadiums - Newell Memorial Field and the old Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton - from Hancock County Schools for $400,000. The properties add to the county's portfolio of marketable and developable land.
"What we are strapped for in this county ... is level land that is proximate to transportation corridors, with available infrastructure," Ford said. "It's very limited."
Ford said the properties, taken together, are a "major coup" for economic development in the Northern Panhandle, but, so far, none of the inquiries have resulted in a sale or lease. Ford said non-disclosure agreements with various prospects prevent him from discussing details.
All three properties have large billboards announcing "For Sale or Lease" and a phone number. The TS&T site also is listed and promoted on the West Virginia Development Office's website for available properties. The website has, among other information, aerial photos of the cleaned-up property, a topographical map and an aerial map with floodplain information.
Local officials want to do something similar with the stadium properties in Newell and Weirton. Ford said the BDC is close to hiring a company that can take a photographer up to shoot aerial photographs.
Such photos can be posted online and used in print brochures, he said. "We haven't really showcased these three northern communities (Chester, Newell, Weirton) in literature in the past. ... The only way you can get an idea of where we are situated geographically is through aerial shots," he said.
Ford said the BDC also wants to advertise the sites in trade publications, such as Shale Play, related to the oil and gas drilling industry.
Another necessary step in making the stadium properties ready for development is a Phase I environmental assessment, Ford said. Such a study determines whether the land contains any recognized environmental hazards, he said.
Because of the stipulations of the grant funding, the Phase I assessment of the stadium properties is due today. Ford said he isn't expecting any surprises.
"We're pretty confident that we're not going to see anything that would be too startling or that would warrant a Phase II assessment on either site. They seem to be pretty clean sites," Ford said.
While a Phase I study involves checking records and interviewing people familiar with the property, a Phase II study involves taking and studying actual soil samples. Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc., of Pittsburgh, was hired to do the Phase I assessment at a cost of about $7,000 per site, Ford said.
Newell Memorial Field is located in an area once used by the Homer Laughlin China Co. for the disposal of broken china, said Hancock County Commissioner Dan Greathouse. The old Jimmy Carey Stadium sits in close proximity to the old Weirton Steel mill.
Ford said banks will not finance the purchase of commercial property without a Phase I assessment. "We've streamlined the purchase process for a buyer by having the Phase I in hand," he said.
Ford said he is not concerned that none of the three properties - TS&T, Newell Memorial Field, Jimmy Carey - has found a buyer yet.
"I don't think they've been on the market long enough to get the breadth of exposure to the region that we really want," he said. "These stadiums are very critically located, and we want to make sure we expose them enough regionally ... to attract industry."
Greathouse said the county has received one serious inquiry about the Newell property. "Within the next three months, we'll know if this inquiry at Newell is real or not. Financing, building - all those things have to be looked at," he said.
While the bleachers at Jimmy Carey are in the process of being removed, demolition work has yet to begin at the Newell stadium. Commissioners have hired Juszczak Development to remove and scrap the old stadium equipment, including bleachers, the press box, lighting and fencing.