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City council vows to help new owner develop property

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- There may be a silver -- or gold -- lining to the smoke cloud that hung over a shuttered glass plant this weekend.

"I don't know that you ever have a good fire ... but 17 acres of prime property off a U.S. highway is certainly something that is very exciting for the city," said Jim Hunt, Clarksburg city council member, on Monday.

A spectacular fire destroyed part of the former Anchor Hocking Glass Co. plant at U.S. 50 and West Virginia Avenue Sunday night.

Hunt, who added the fact there was no loss of life or serious injury was his primary concern, said city officials will be glad to work with new property owner Dewey L. Wilfong of Parsons in any way they can. Vice Mayor Kathryn Folio agreed.

"If I didn't think he had his hands full today, I would have already called him," said Folio, a family friend of Wilfong, who closed his purchase of the property on Sept. 29, just nine days before the fire.

"It's an incredible development opportunity," Hunt said.

Hunt, who works in the development field, compared the site's potential to that of a defunct steel mill in the Pennsylvania community of Homestead. In the early 1990s, that community secured government funding to demolish buildings and redevelop the riverfront property.

He would like to see a small technology park go onto the Wilfong land, once demolition occurs. He estimates a park of seven or eight such businesses could employ as many as 2,000 to 3,000 and be a much more lucrative property tax payer than an empty factory or a warehouse, the latter purpose for which Wilfong paid a $250,000 purchase price.

Folio, who owns four beverage distribution centers around the state, said there may still be usable warehouse space at the site and that she would like to see some light manufacturing, a truck cargo swapping area or a central warehousing/distribution site to send area agricultural products to urban markets located there.

"If I owned the property, that is exactly what I would do," Folio said, adding its industrial zoning means development possibilities are virtually unlimited except for hazardous materials.

The land has U.S. 50 exits from West Virginia Avenue and Sycamore Street. Folio said the presence of a railroad spur on the site is also a plus.

Commercial real estate expert Michael Castle said the property certainly has potential, although if there are hazardous materials on it that could seriously lower its value. No information was available on the presence or absence of such material from Wilfong, who has not returned repeated Exponent and Telegram phone calls.

"It's a piece of property that has its own exit off an interstate," said Castle, of Petroplus & Associates, Inc. Fairmont office. "That's a valuable piece of property."

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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