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Last updated Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ambitious plan to renovate Evraz Steel site revealed

Fourteen years and three days after urban planner Tom Comitta presented a conceptual plan for redevelopment of the ‘central core’ of Claymont, Steve Collins, executive vice president of Commercial Development Co., unveiled an elaborate conceptual plan for the unincorporated community’s northern tier. The Comitta proposal is now well on the way to becoming reality with construction of the Darley Green residential and commercial complex along Philadelphia Pike. “We hope within three years to have buildings on the ground and [their occupants] hiring people,” Collins told attenders at a town meeting on May 20.

While few, if any, of the nearly 300 area residents who turned out for that session at Crowne Plaza Hotel experienced dé·jà vu, some of the links with the one long-ago at the Claymont Community Center were uncanny. [CLICK HERE to read Delaforum 2001 article.] Not the least was the presence of County Executive Tom Gordon who, while holding the same office in 2001, put up $25,000 of seed money from his discretionary fund as the first proverbial act-of-faith in the then-fledgling Claymont Renaissance. In brief remarks this time, he predicted, “This is going to get done quickly.”

Similarly, Governor Jack Markell – making an unannounced appearance at the meeting – noted that the necessary environmental cleanup is already under way  and pledged that state government “certainly will do all we can to bring this project to fruition.”

Although the late George Lossé, first president of the Claymont Community Council, is no longer with us, Brett Saddler, executive director of the Claymont Renaissance Development Corporation, is spearheading an effort to galvanize local support for what he referred to as “an opportunity to bring in a lot of well-paying jobs to the community.”

John Cartier, who now represents Claymont on County Council, is a staunch supporter of the Commercial Development proposal as is his colleague, Councilman Bob Weiner, whose district included Claymont before reapportionment. Weiner is widely recognized as the proverbial godfather of the Renaissance.

Collins presented a plan to divide the 422-acre site of former Evraz specialty steel plant, bounded by Naamans Road and straddling Philadelphia Pike, to accommodate eight separate uses, branded as First State Crossing. That references the linkage of Interstate 95 and 495 highways, the Amtrak railroad and the Delaware River.

● At the western side of the tract, opposite Tri-State Mall,  is proposed a group of office buildings. (Labeled 1 in the accompanying diagram.) Collins said that area, formerly used for outdoor storage of scrap metal to be melted as part of the steel-making process, will require the least difficult environmental remediation and is in line to be the initial redevelopment step. Markell remarked that Alan Levin, state economic development director, has been in personal contact with owners of the mall and they’ve indicated they would be receptive to parallel redevelopment.

● The former steel company headquarters (2) will be preserved for adaptive reuse, Collins said. A large trove of company records in the building has been offered to the Hagley Library, which archives industrial and business history. Evraz was the last of a series of owners of the steel plant, which dated back to the founding of Worth Steel in 1917.

● The portion of the actual factory site which lies west of Philadelphia Pike (3) is earmarked as the location of various research facilities. The eastern section (4) would devoted to light industrial uses and warehousing. Together those 100 acres would be expected to bring in as many as 600 jobs. The sections would be separated by a landscaped Philadelphia Pike.

● A multi-modal transit center (5) would include a new Claymont railroad station – already well into the planning stage – offering commuter service to Philadelphia, Wilmington and Newark. It would have twice as much parking space as the present one and not be on a curved section of track, which makes boarding and egressing trains somewhat difficult.

 ● The most ambitious component of the plan would be a new port along the river (6, 7 and 8).  It would provide for a Delmarva Power substation, a public safety facility and a drydock.  Collins said the port is the least far along in the planning process and will require considerable work to determine if an additional port along the river is justified and, if so, whether it would for container ships or handle bulk cargo.

He said the overall site will include enhancement of Naamans Creek in approximately 80 acres of mostly woodland open space. That will include buffering between the complex and the existing communities of Knollwood and Addicks Estate. It also is envisioned that it would be extended south linking with the as yet undeveloped northern portion of Fox Run State Park.

The mood of the meeting was clearly supportive, but the possibility of a snag was raised with reference to the Coastal Zone Act. The landmark law was passed in the 1970s to preserve remaining areas along the river and Delaware Bay from industrial development. While the steel plant well predates the legisislation, Collins acknowledged that it “may require amendment [although] we’re not proposing anything specific at this time.”

Asked who would pay for a proposed new road across the site, he said, “We haven’t asked for any public assistance and don’t anticipate that [we will] in the future.”

St. Louis-based Commercial Development Co. operates nationwide and in Canada. It buys so-called ‘brownfields’ properties with the intent to rehabilitate and sell them. With reference to the timing of First State Crossing, Collins said it behooves his company to move as quickly as possible to bring the proposal to fruition. “We want our investment dollars returned sooner rather than later,” he said, adding that the firm already is in preliminary conversations with potential buyers. “We’re getting some encouraging feedback,” he said.



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