You could almost consider the transformation of the former Gulf States Steel property to the Gadsden Industrial Park as subject of a television show – think “Extreme Makeover-Gadsden Edition.”
Gone are a number of buildings that were used in steel making and cleaned up are piles of debris and equipment that littered the grounds. Greenery, flowers and other landscaping have been added as well as a fresh coat of paint on many of the buildings that have been spruced up in hopes of attracting tenants.
At an open house for the industrial park Tuesday, Bill Leemhuis, who is overseeing the work being done and leasing of the space for the Don Casey family of Pittsburgh, said the property currently has four tenants but he has had several prospects. The four tenants are Praxair, Jemison Dempsey Metals, Gadsden Machine and Roll and Intracore Technologies.
The Casey family bought about 400 acres of the Gulf States Steel property, including more than 30 buildings, and equipment in September 2002 for $6.3 million after the plant closed in 2000. The assets were sold by the U.S. bankruptcy court.
Leemhuis said a year or two of work remains to be done and will continue even after that in a limited way. “The main things are getting the buildings painted and getting the area landscaped,” Leemhuis said. He said top soil will be delivered and grass planted to create more green space.
In addition to the original acreage purchased in 2002, he said, the Casey family bought another 50 acres to protect its investment. He said possibilities might exist for development as well.
Leemhuis declined to say how much has been spent on work so far but there has been a crew of 10 to 15 people working on the site making improvements. He said $80,000 was recently spent just on roof paint for part of the buildings. “That’s a very small percentage of materials we are using,” Leemhuis said.
He said the industrial park is being promoted through newspaper and trade journal ads, mail-outs, signs and a Web site. “We have prospects,” he said. These are heavy industry prospects that need overhead cranes and rail.
He said he would like to have more tenants but considering how the economy has been and how long it takes for a redevelopment project, the industrial park has done about as well as expected. “Now is the time I would like to see some acceleration in the leasing,” Leemhuis said.
Mike McCain, executive director of the Gadsden-Etowah County Industrial Development Authority, said he has been pleased with the work that is going on at the property.
” Big difference, isn’t it?” McCain said when asked about the property.
“They said from the very outset that that was their plan, and they are delivering,” McCain said. “The difference is just night and day. We’re really elated with what they’ve done.”
He said the improvement will help in bringing tenants to occupy the more than 1.5 million square feet of space that is available. He said the space is not suitable for every industrial prospect.
“But for somebody that needs to rent high bay space for a heavy industrial project with cranes and rail, that’s not an easy requirement to fill, and I’m delighted we have it here,” McCain said. He said he is working closely with Leemhuis in recruiting tenants.
Leemhuis said the melt shop building has been torn down and the soaking pit building is being taken down, leaving the locomotive shop. He said the wire mill building and the blooming mill and pickle line have been demolished and the rod mill substation will be torn down. He said the bricks are being reclaimed from that building.
Leemhuis said he is working with firms on plans to demolish the power house and coke mill to eliminate the environmental risk but that asbestos will have to be abated before demolishing those buildings. He said those buildings are still owned by the Gulf States Steel estate.
He said the plate mill and basic oxygen furnace were dismantled and sold to firms in China last year by the Don Casey Equipment Co. and the hot strip mill has been sold but has not been shipped to a firm in China.
The Casey family has redeveloped other closed steel mills in Niles and Youngstown, Ohio, and Sterling, Ill. Leemhuis said this is the largest property the family has redeveloped.
Leemhuis said he really couldn’t say how many jobs the property might eventually produce because it would depend on if the property was used for warehousing or for manufacturing. He said he would prefer manufacturing firms, which would pay more in rent and would also mean more jobs.
“We’re heavily investing in an asset that we think will have a return,” Leemhuis said. “We’re financially behind it because we think we are going to make those leases.” Leemhuis would not say if the sale of the equipment paid for the cost of the property but that it has worked out well for Casey.
He said some people might have sold parts of the mills and not spent anything on improvements but the Casey family looks at it as a long-term investment. “It’s never going to be a Cadillac, but we’re taking a Yugo and making it into a nice Chevrolet,” Leemhuis said.
By Andy Powell
Times Staff Writer