Business Development Corporation has plans for grant - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle has plans for grant

Posted: Updated:

The Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle wants to use a newly funded regional grant program to help redevelop the old Brooke Glass property in Wellsburg as well as other industrial sites in the area.
The BDC has taken title to the former factory, a property community residents want to see cleaned up and reused in a neighborhood-friendly way. Idled more than three decades ago, neighbors think its proximity to a rail-trail makes the property attractive for things like boat storage and retail activities in keeping with the neighborhood.
BDC is partnering with the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, which has developed a new regional Site-Ready Program to address brownfields sites using nearly $380,000 in funding from the Benedum Foundation over a three-year period.
The program, which emphasizes inter-state cooperation and collaboration, targets properties based on forecasted demand. Rather than wait until a prospect voices interest in a property and risk losing that opportunity because of the work to be done to prepare it for reuse, the Site-Read Program identifies and prepares specific, high-value properties.
The Benedum funding will be used for primarily for site-related costs, which include surveys, market planning, market assessments and identification, and to complete environmental assessments for high-interest properties.There's also a community development component, which includes costs associated with identifying additional stakeholders and gathering community input on re-use options, as well as a regional networking/marketing initiative.
As part of the program, the BDC will collaborate with its Pennsylvania counterparts, North Side Industrial Development Group and the Riverside Center for Innovation, on marketing, creative financing and grant writing as well as site-development activities in their four-county service area – Brooke and Hancock counties in West Virginia, Allegheny and Beaver counties in Pennsylvania.
"I think Benedum's interest was to see the outputs," NWVBAC Director Pat Kirby said. "They understand the value of brownfields. This is not a fishing expedition with hopes that if they gave money to the Site-Ready Program there might be results; we've had discussions and (identified) projects and properties that are on the strategic list in those four counties. In three years they will see results, but it's necessary to package it in the Site-Ready platform so we can get the sites prepared and hopefully create a network that will draw people in."
Kirby said the foundation was clearly interested in helping build a collaboration that crosses state lines, "but it was not an easy sell. They were interested in investing, but this partnership between Riverside, the BDC and the BAC had to be just that, a collaborative effort that will bring results and not a one-and-done grant."
RCI Director Emily Buka said the program builds on the strengths of its players: BDC is experienced in developing sites; RCI and the North Side Industrial Development Group emphasize creative financing and grant writing, while the NWVBAC has had demonstrated success in building collaboration among regional stakeholders.
"We're all in this Ohio Valley together," Buka said. "We know they have similar situations, what they are doing is really transformational," Buka said. "We'll be working with them to help coordinate the program, to publicly promote the program interstate so we can speak with one voice and have an integrated media strategy."
BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said the alliance with Pennsylvania groups creates much-needed synergy.
"We can learn from them and they can learn from us," he said. "Together, we draw from the technical and financial support of the Brownfields Assistance Center funded by the Benedum Foundation."
He pointed out Benedum had funded the BAC on the front end, too, providing money for "focus" grants to work with communities and organizations to create awareness of brownfield redevelopment potential, its importance and future economic viability.
Ford said Wellsburg was one of a number of West Virginia communities to receive a focus grant and had, in fact, been successful in staging concensus-building public meetings to discuss the Brooke Glass property.
"The Benedum Foundation was pleased with the amount of awareness that was created through the focus grants, the success stories (they led to)," he said. "So when Pat Kirby went back to them, he talked about the projects we'd raised awareness about, their importance to the community, how we'd identified challenges associated with them but some communities don't have the capacity to take care of the problem, and they cane up with the Site-Ready Program."
Because the BDC is non-profit, it can access state and federal grant money that a privately-owned property owner cannot tap. Without that opportunity, the BDC couldn't take on the environmental issues at brownfields sites. In the case of Brooke Glass, those contaminants could include arsenic, cobalt and lead, though Ford and the BDC won't know for sure what they'll encounter until a Phase II assessment is completed.
"Because we're non-profit, we can access (grant) money for remediation and demolition," he said. "The BDC didn't want to acquire the property unless we had a pretty good idea what funding sources would be available."
He said the Site-Ready funding could be applied to local fund requirements for remediation and demolition grants, "or if the prospects we're talking to require a building and they want us to share the cost...we could use the money to pay consultants or package deals to pay for some of the things we need."
In addition to Brooke Glass, Ford said they'd also identified the old Oak Glen and Weir High football stadiums, the AL Solutions property in New Cumberland, the former Weirton Post Office and the Gen Pak site in Wellsburg as "strategic sites" well-suited to the Site-Ready program. Likewise, the Pennsylvania groups have identified properties in Beaver and Allegheny counties that fit the program's requirements.