WELLSBURG – The boarded up windows at the old Brooke Glass property in the south end of town don’t begin to tell the story of what’s happening in the community, Mayor Sue Simonetti says.
Idled more than three decades ago, Simonetti sees the old factory as the centerpiece of a citywide effort to reinvent Wellsburg that started just about the time the old Banner-Fibreboard property in the heart of town was cleaned up and then acquired by Eagle Manufacturing for roughly $1.2 million. The company is currently building a 40,000-square-foot distribution center and a 1,200-square foot office where the paper plant once stood, leaving it with another 60,000 square feet of development potential in reserve.
“Brooke Glass wasn’t our first priority (when we started),” Simonetti says of the 2-acre parcel just a block from city hall. “But it’s become our first priority.”
The property’s ascension up the priority list started with a $5,000 grant from the Benedum Foundation to assess the potential for environmental contaminants on site, calculate the cost to remove them and get public input on how the property should eventually be reused. The assessment grant was followed up with another $5,000 grant through “Project Buzz,” a redevelopment program spearheaded by the West Virginia Redevelopment Collaborative.
The Redevelopment Collaborative is a Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center project. Because it’s funded by the Benedum Foundation, its services are available statewide.
Once they’re accepted into the program, “Project Buzz” uses a team approach to breathe new life into old industrial properties by helping community leaders draft redevelopment plans tailored to their needs and allows them to tap into the expertise of faculty members at West Virginia University, Alderson-Broaddus, Fairmont State, West Virginia Wesleyan and West Liberty University as well as experts in government and the private sector.
While the initial assessment grant helped them figure out what was on site that needed to be removed, City Manager Mark Henne described the buzz grant as “seed money to keep the ball rolling, to look at how our feature properties can be reused once they’re cleaned up.”