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Officials reconsider demolition of Bantam building

Demolition work continues Tuesday at the former Bantam Jeep and AK Steel property in Butler.PHOTOGRAPHY By Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle

While demolition is underway on almost all of the buildings on the 29 acres that formerly housed Armco and AK Steel's stainless processing works, officials have pumped the brakes on tearing down a historic building that represents Butler's claim to fame.

Mark Gordon, the county's chief of economic development and planning and a former Armco corporate official, has been overseeing the sale of the property on Bantam Avenue along with Joe Saeler, director of the County Development Corporation (CDC).

When it was owned by Armco, and later, AK Steel, the property was known as Plant 2 and contained the Butler Works' stainless processing facility.

Plant 2 was closed in 2004 by AK Steel, which had purchased Armco in 1999.Armco bought the property many years ago from the Bantam Car Company, which created the Jeep for use in World War II.Some Jeeps were manufactured in the Bantam building on the property, which was slated for the wrecking ball this week.But Gordon said the property's new owners, Capital Environmental Risk Transfer Alliance, or CERTA, made the decision to hold up on the demolition of the Bantam building and have a structural engineer evaluate it over the next few weeks.

“There was a recognition of historical significance, so they want to make sure (demolition) is the only real option,” Gordon said.There is no current plan for restoration of the building should the structural report determine that it is sound.“Anything with the Bantam building remains to be seen,” Gordon said.Another structure that was spared at the property was the former Allegheny Axle building, which Gordon said is in good shape and of a size and configuration that renders it easily usable and adaptable by a new industry that may locate on the property.Gordon said CERTA has clients potentially interested in the property.CERTA purchased another former AK Steel property in Ashland, Ky., several years ago and demolished a coke plant there.“This is not a new concept for these folks,” Gordon said of CERTA. “They are very successful around the country in acquiring discontinued places and turning brownfields into vibrant manufacturing and industrial sites.”

He said CERTA's plan for the former Plant 2 is to lease to industries and manufacturers, which will bring employment and economic development to the county.“We couldn't ask for a better partner to work with,” Gordon said of CERTA.He said brothers Jake and Kris Bamberger, CERTA co-owners, and their partners are respectful of the communities and heritage where they buy property.Gordon said the Bambergers are using local companies for demolition and cleanup at the Plant 2 property.“They reside in Cincinnati, but they pretty much have been here four or five nights a week ever since the acquisition, trying to bring this project to some level of near completion or demolition,” Gordon said.While the area of the project is zoned industrial, Gordon said he is seeking architectural firms to look at the market and make a recommendation on potential uses for the Plant 2 site. The architects will look at job creation and economic benefits associated with various uses, including retail and residential.

“If they come back with recommendations that are inconsistent with the current zoning, obviously, through the CDC, we would make application for a change in use,” Gordon said.One Butler native who hates to see the former stainless processing works scrapped is Bill Quigley, who was the last superintendent at Plant 2.Quigley, who now lives in Kentucky, said AK Steel had stainless manufacturing at four locations, and when it was decided that one needed to be closed, the Butler facility was chosen.“I fought to keep it open from the standpoint of cost per ton, quality and total productivity,” Quigley said.

He said Plant 2 employed about 240 at its production peak, and 160 when it closed.Quigley transferred to another AK Steel location, many workers retired and others were absorbed into the workforce at the plant in Butler Township when Plant 2 closed.“It was very sad when we had to close that building because most of the employees there had spent their whole careers in that plant,” Quigley said. “It was a very close-knit group.”Quigley, who retired from AK Steel in 2011, said Armco expanded the Bantam Car Company's floor space by 35% when it purchased the company many years ago.

He recalled that the Bantam building was used as Armco and AK's engineering department, where the Butler Works' electrical, mechanical and civil engineers toiled.“It got so bad that they moved out,” Quigley said of the former Jeep factory.The former superintendent said he is glad that the property has been purchased by a good company and will bring jobs and economic development to his hometown.“They're taking down an eyesore now,” Quigley said. “I think (CERTA) will be very much a boon to the area.”

CERTA Management LLC of Cincinnati, has acquired the former AK Steel stainless processing plant and the Bantam Jeep Factory from Cleveland Cliffs. A contingency of Butler County representatives toured the facility with the new owner’s, brothers Jake and Kris Bamberger, Friday morning November 20, 2020. Harold Aughton/Butler Eagle
The former Bantam Jeep production building may not be demolished, officials said Tuesday.
Interior of the former AK Steel property near one of the furnaces. The property sold and is currently being cleared for redevelopment. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 11/01/21
The former AK Steel and Bantam Jeep property in Butler is now owned by Capital Environmental Risk Transfer Alliance, or CERTA, and is being cleared for redevelopment.Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle
Kris Bamberger (center), co-owner and partner of CERTA -- the company that purchased the old Butler AK Steel Facility for redevelopment -- talks with Butler County chief of economic development Mark Gordon (right), Community Development Corporation of Butler County executive director Joe Saeler and CDC staff member Tiffany Horstman at the former AK Steel and Bantam Jeep property Tuesday. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 11/01/21
A scrap pile sits in the interior of the former AK Steel facility in Butler. The property sold and is currently being cleared for redevelopment. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 11/01/21
Joe Saylor, CEO, community development corporation, Mark Gordon, Butler County Chief of Economic Development and Planning, and Jake Bamberger of CERTA Management, LLC of Cincinnati, along with a contingent of Butler County representatives take a look at the old Bantam Jeep factory on Nov. 20, 2020. Instead of being demolished as planned, a structural study will be conducted on the building to determine whether it is sound enough to avoid the wrecking ball for history's sake.
Butler County chief of economic development Mark Gordon(right) talks to Jake Bamberger the co-owner of Capital Environmental Risk Transfer Alliance (CERTA) at the site of the old AK Steel and Bantam Jeep facility in Butler Monday. Bamberger’s company purchased the property and is currently preparing it for redevelopment. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 11/01/21
Demolition work at the former Bantam Jeep and AK Steel property Tuesday Butler. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 11/30/21

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