WEIRTON - Steelmaker ArcelorMittal has begun demolishing dormant facilities covering hundreds of acres of land in preparation for future sale, according to company officials.
The basic oxygen plant that towers over the north end of Main Street is one of the assets slated to be razed, according to a statement released Thursday. One of the more recognizable aspects of Weirton's skyline, the plant was hailed a generation ago as the "steel mill of the future," but it was idled in 2005 as the mill downsized from a fully integrated steel producer to a tin finishing operation.
The company didn't provide a timetable for demolition or a detailed list of structures it plans to tear down, nor did it comment on whether a major sale is forthcoming.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Almost five years after the last steel coil rolled off ArcelorMittal’s hot mill in Weirton, the steelmaker announced it has started to tear down its idle assets to prepare for future sale.
"ArcelorMittal is very excited about what is on the horizon for Weirton," said company spokeswoman Sunny Oh. "We are proud to play a significant role in the future of the Weirton community, as both a key player in the tin plate business and in the economic development process. Due to confidentiality requirements, we are not at liberty to discuss any further details."
United Steelworkers Local 2911 President Mark Glyptis said the demolition will begin with some low-lying structures located across Main Street from the oxygen plant, including what remains of the open hearth area and nearby scrubbers. The basic oxygen plant and blast furnaces also will come down, he said.
Glyptis said it's been clear for quite some time that Weirton's days as a fully integrated steel town are over, and though it will be difficult to see the city's landscape altered so drastically, the move is necessary to make way for family-sustaining jobs to replace those lost as the mill declined.
"I think the worst thing we could do is put our heads in the sand and act like the world hasn't changed," said Glyptis. "We're going to look different, but the different look will be a very good look."
Despite all that's happened in Weirton, he said, what hasn't changed are the city's geographical advantages.
"When E.T. Weir selected this site to build a steel mill, he did so because of the Ohio River ... the rail system, the highway system," Glyptis said. "Now we have an international airport (in Pittsburgh). ... As companies have come in and looked at the land that's for sale, they've found it very attractive."
Glyptis said orders for tin plate are strong, noting "our book is solid the rest of the year." He said total employment is back to about 1,000 after falling to about 900 or so, and more hires could be made.
ArcelorMittal announced its "Project Weirton" initiative - calling for the sale of all property not necessary for tin production - in 2007. In December of that year, the hot mill in Weirton produced its last steel coil.
Areas ArcelorMittal plans to sell include Brown's Island, much of its property at the north end of town, the former site of the mill's open hearths and a strip of rail and slag yards along U.S. 22 near Freedom Way. Parcels it will retain include the tin mill, main offices and property at Half Moon Industrial Park.
The first noticeable movement on the Project Weirton plan came in March of this year, when the Weirton Planning Commission approved ArcelorMittal's request to redraw parcel boundaries for tax identification purposes.
The Weirton Redevelopment Authority and the nonprofit Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle have expressed interest in purchasing the former city building, post office and an adjacent abandoned home - all ArcelorMittal-owned properties near the intersection of Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. In May, they requested and received $3,000 from Weirton City Council to have those properties appraised for the purpose of making a fair market value offer.
Redevelopment Authority Chairman Mark Zatezalo previously said the organizations "have a specific project in mind," but provided no further details.