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4/30/2015
Claymont project could add 5,000 jobs - News Journal

Jeff Mordock, The News Journal

A St. Louis developer has proposed building an office, manufacturing and transit hub at the site of the former Evraz Steel Mill in Claymont.

The developer, Commercial Development Co., estimates the multimillion-dollar project could bring as many as 5,000 jobs to the area. New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon called that number conservative. Gordon said the size of the 425-acre project could attract multiple employers, bringing thousands more jobs to the site.

Commercial Development, or CDC, transforms outdated industrial properties throughout the country into office, manufacturing and retail space. Its portfolio totals 30 million square feet and has a value of $500 million.

The plan, dubbed First State Crossing, is divided into four sections – the First State Corporate Center, First State Employment Center, First State Transit Center and the First State Logistics Center.

The Corporate Center will sit on 30 acres where I-95 and I-495 connect and cross Naamans Creek. CDC expects to build four office buildings totaling 600,000 square feet on the site with trails along the creek and a link to the new transit center that the developer has envisioned.

Steve Collins, executive vice president of CDC, said there is already interest from potential tenants about leasing office space at the site. He cautioned that CDC is not going to build the office based on speculation, but will wait until tenants are signed.

"As soon as we get commitments from tenants, we will begin building," Collins said. "Demand will dictate how fast the offices will be built."

The First State Employment Center will be located along Philadelphia Pike and include office, manufacturing and research space. A 41-acre parcel north of Philadelphia Pike will house research and office properties, while the 59-acre area south of Philadelphia Pike will house the manufacturing, warehouse and logistics space.

It is expected that the employment center will provide opportunities to create as many as 600 jobs.

CDC also will construct a new transit center on a 12-acre site roughly half a mile east of the existing Claymont Train Station. The transit center will include 600-foot passenger platforms, bus connections, 650 parking spaces, bike and pedestrian access and a ride dropoff area.

The First State Transit Center is expected to replace Claymont's current train station. Collins said the Delaware Department of Transportation expressed concern about the train station because of the lack of parking and that it sits on a section of curved track that could create a safety hazard.

A redevelopment of the existing port, dubbed the First State Logistics Center, is proposed south of the Amtrak rail line along the Delaware River. The site will be reconfigured to develop a 1-mile bulkhead for boats. It also will have shipping space for companies to ship products via trucks and rail.

"This is one of the best sites in Delaware for water, highway and rail access," said Randall Jostes, CEO of Environmental Liability Transfer Inc., a CDC affiliate. "We have direct access to a class-one railroad line, and we have access to the river."

Before any bulldozer can start demolishing the steel mill, an environmental study must be completed. That process, conducted by CDC affiliate EnviroAnalytics Group LLC, is expected to occur within two years.

Jostes said the project would move forward in two phases. The first phase will prepare the site for horizontal development such as cleaning up any possible environmental hazards and having the space ready for construction. A second phase, defined as vertical development, will be the construction of new buildings.

Collins said CDC already has submitted demolition permits to New Castle County and expects to receive a green light next week to proceed with the project. Demolition is expected to take 18 months, he said.

"All of the existing buildings are going to be coming down," he said. "We are preserving an old historic building on Philadelphia Pike."

Jostes said CDC is using its own capital for the project. It estimates it will cost $100 million just to complete the first phase. He added that CDC has not asked for any state funds. Even infrastructure improvements, such as new roads or sewer, will be entirely funded by the developer. Delaware could offer incentives to attract a large out-of-state company to relocate to First State Crossing, but that could be the only role public money may play the project, he said.

"Claymont is a jewel of Delaware that hasn't been unearthed," Jostes said. "We are committed financially and moving forward. The state has been very supportive, and we hope the community is also happy with this project."

Collins said CDC has not conducted a traffic study yet, but is considering creating a transportation improvement district to address concerns about increased cars at the site. The benefit of new jobs will outweigh any of his traffic concerns, according to Gordon.

"I'm not worried about traffic as much as I worry about jobs," Gordon said. "This is a brilliant idea that Claymont needs."

Dolores Whilden, a community activist, who has advocated redeveloping the steel mill property, said she supports this project.

"We really have a bad situation here in Claymont," she said. "North Claymont has been a neglected district, but this idea is awesome. It's going to change to everything."

Contact Jeff Mordock at (302) 324-2786, on Twitter @ JeffMordockTNJ or jmordock@delawareonline.com.

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