By STEPHEN HUBA
CHESTER, W.Va. - City residents got their first peek last month at what the old Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery site might look like once its economic development potential is fully realized.
A preliminary design plan developed by landscape architecture professors and students from West Virginia University shows green spaces, trees and parks where the riverfront pottery used to be, as well as tens of thousands of square feet available for light industrial, retail, housing and office use - potentially from the natural gas industry. The preliminary plan envisions a center park and a waterfront park, street access, parking lots, a parking garage and a cultural heritage center that incorporates the pottery's old smokestack - reduced by demolition to a 50-foot section - into its design.
Members of the citizens' committee that has steered the two-year demolition process reacted favorably to the site plan at a meeting. "I like it," said Sandra Parkins, Chester city clerk.
"This is exciting. This is something we can sell," said Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle. "This is something we could package for future funding requests."
The BDC, the chief economic development authority for Brooke and Hancock counties, bought the 8-acre property in June 2011 for $125,000.
Ford said the site, which sat vacant and blighted since the TS&T pottery closed in 1981, is about 60 days away from being ready to promote for economic development purposes. The seven 70-foot silos are in the process of being razed and should be down by the end of next week.
"We want to maximize our opportunity for marketing exposure," Ford said.
The site's reclamation had been identified previously as a priority by local, state and federal authorities, but it was not until a group of Chester residents - the Rock Springs Riverfront Redevelopment Committee - organized in early 2011 that the cleanup work began in earnest.
Since then, the $1.1 million project has received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state of West Virginia and Hancock County commissioners. That money has paid for the demolition of the TS&T plant and remediation of the site, including the removal of more than 254 loads of asbestos-containing material.
Work that remains to be done once the silos are down is the demolition of the silos' foundation and remediation of the riverbank soil, which is believed to contain lead.
"We're creating a buildable site," Ford told Hancock County commissioners at their Thursday meeting.
Commissioner Dan Greathouse praised the reclamation and economic development efforts. "The TS&T plant, at one time, represented about 400 jobs. The opportunity may come that we can meet or exceed that," he said.
Officials now want to use the WVU design plan to market the property to selected industries, including, Ford said, steel fabricating and the oil and gas industries. The site can accommodate light industrial structures ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 square feet, he said.
"We want them planned with sensitivity to the community. We want plenty of light and air," Ford said. "These will not be walled off from the community."
After potential industries are identified, the BDC will apply for a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Authority to pay for build-out preparations of the site, said Marvin Six, BDC assistant director. In the meantime, the community of Chester is planning an event to celebrate the final demolition of the TS&T plant. The celebration is tentatively scheduled from11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Dec. 5 at Chester City Park. The celebration will allow the public to view the design plans and will conclude with a walk-through of the level property.