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Architect to plan former AK Steel plant’s future

Jake Bamberger, center, co-owner and partner of CERTA, the company that purchased the old Butler AK Steel Facility for redevelopment, talks to Community Development Corporation of Butler County executive director Joe Saeler, at right, and Butler County chief of economic development Mark Gordon stand in the former AK Steel and Bantam Jeep property in a portion of the old steel plant in November. Butler Eagle File Photo

Nearing the end of demolition, Butler County and others look to make the former AK Steel Plant 2 site a hub for business.

Butler County commissioners on Jan. 19 approved a contract with urban architect firm Moss Architects to help design the future of the Bantam Avenue industrial site for future use.

Community Development Corporation of Butler County executive director Joe Saeler, on left, and Butler County chief of economic development Mark Gordon discuss plans for redevelopment of the former AK Steel and Bantam Jeep property in a portion of the old steel plant in November. Butler Eagle File Photo

“We received a grant from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and we’re developing a reuse plan for the area, and we’re looking for manufacturing to go back into the area on the approximately 40-acre parcel,” said Joe Saeler, executive director of the Community Development Corporation of Butler County.

The county’s grant, a $600,000 award from the EPA’s Brownfields Program, aims to help Butler County and other stakeholders assess, clean up and reuse properties contaminated by hazardous substances.

An excavator moves rubble at the old Bantam Jeep and AK Steel site in Butler in November. Butler Eagle File Photo

The brownfield site was closed in 2004, and had been originally used by the Bantam Car Company. Bantam sold the property to Armco, which itself was purchased by AK Steel in 1999. Cleveland-Cliffs, which purchased AK Steel in March 2020, sold the building to Cincinnati-based Capital Environmental Risk Transfer Alliance, or CERTA, for $2.6 million in November 2020.

Saeler said the roughly 380,000-square-foot Plant 2 should be fully demolished by spring, which is when the effort to revitalize the site will begin in earnest.

Mark Gordon, the county’s economic development chief, said the work with Moss Architects will help the county determine which amenities can attract new businesses to the area as well as to figure out how, specifically, new buildings should be constructed.

“We believe the site is a great industrial site,” Gordon said. “That’s what it was in its former life.”

But, he noted, the needs of industry today are different from what the needs were when the building was erected. No longer are most companies looking for a nearly 400,000-square-foot site, Gordon said. Moss will help the county determine what prospective tenants want — he said most companies would be looking for something 10% the size of the current plant — and how to implement those desires in the site’s reuse.

“This is a unique opportunity,” Gordon said. “We don’t want to screw this up.”

Saeler said the opportunity to reuse the site, which now comes closer to reality, would be a positive move for Butler, the county and all stakeholders.

Butler County chief of economic development Mark Gordon, atright, talks to Jake Bamberger, co-owner of Capital Environmental Risk Transfer Alliance (CERTA), at the site of the old AK Steel and Bantam Jeep facility in Butler. Bamberger's company purchased the property and is currently preparing it for redevelopment. Butler Eagle File Photo

“We’re just excited for the project and to be able to bring new jobs and new buildings to the area,” he said.

Gordon said the Bantam Avenue site’s proximity to the Island section of Butler makes clear another opportunity for economic revitalization as well. Perhaps, he speculated, there could be a push for more affordable housing near the AK Steel Plant 2 site as companies move into the repurposed 40-acre brownfield.

“It’s an opportunity to allow it to be a cohesive use,” he said.

Saeler said while demolition is scheduled to be completed by spring, developing a reuse plan and implementing the plan will take some time.

“We’re hoping to start building within the next year and a half,” he said.

Kris Bamberger, center, co-owner and partner of CERTA, talks with Butler County chief of economic development Mark Gordon, at 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 in November. Butler Eagle File Photo