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21st Century Industry Drives Redevelopment at Former Steel Mill Site


Posted December 17, 2018

Somewhere in the midst of the hydroponic crops, the organic chicken feed, the warehouse robotics, and the heaps of scrap steel, coal and lead ingots, a modern industrial revival is unfolding.

That’s the scene at Tradepoint Atlantic – the 3,300-acre former site of Bethlehem Steel on Sparrows Point.  

After the steel plant closed in 2012, executives at Tradepoint Atlantic saw a “generational opportunity” to transform the 125-year-old industrial site into a 21st century, multi-modal logistics hub. Seizing that opportunity, however, would require vision, huge investment and a daunting environmental effort.

“The first day I reported to work at Sparrows Point in 2014, we tried to get Verizon to come down and service our line,” Aaron Tomarchio, Senior Vice President of Administration and Corporate Affairs, told attendees at MDSPE’s 2018 Annual Conference. The Verizon technician refused. “He said, ‘I’m not coming there. It’s contaminated.’”

To prepare the site for redevelopment, Tradepoint Atlantic demolished 17 million square feet of old industrial buildings, removing 7,000 tons of asbestos and recycling 2.5 million tons of copper, steel and aggregate in the process. It drilled 556 wells to test and monitor groundwater and did another 2,594 soil borings — a process that “made the site look like Swiss cheese” and revealed that the site’s main contaminants were metals, oils and grease, Tomarchio said. The company also removed, tested and carefully disposed of materials at the bottom of Tin Mill Canal which had been contaminated by the steel mill’s practice of “basically dumping their product out the back door into the canal.” In total, developers put 2.5 million person hours into environment remediation.

But Tradepoint Atlantic was convinced that “the same concept that attracted the steel mill in the late 1880s … will continue to attract business,” Tomarchio said. In addition to its expansive site and available, local workforce, Sparrows Point sits next to the main, 50-foot channel through the Port of Baltimore, two Class 1 railroads (CSX and Norfolk Southern) and I-695, making it well positioned to reach one-third of the U.S. population within one day’s travel.

To improve transportation services, Tradepoint Atlantic established its own rail services company, providing short-line connection to the CSX and Norfolk Southern lines, railcar storage and servicing, and development of short-line tracks directly to tenant sites. It also began rehabilitating piers and other marine facilities and secured a $25-million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve bulk-handling facilities.

The redevelopment has already attracted large supply chain logistics facilities, including distribution centers for FedEx, Under Armor and Amazon, as well as import/export companies dealing in coal, scrap steel, salt, gypsum, zinc, lead ingots and automobiles. This autumn, Perdue announced plans to build a facility on site to handle organic grain and soy beans. 

In total, “we have put more than 2 million tons of cargo through the port within the last year,” Tomarchio said.

The site is also attracting diverse opportunities, he said. Those include a training facility for Harley Davidson and Gotham Greens, a 100,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse that will grow organic produce. Some defense contractors have started talking to Tradepoint Atlantic about the prospect of using its graving dock for upgrades of Navy vessels. The company is hoping to attract small manufacturing operations and become a service hub for future offshore wind energy developments. It is also planning a retail development.

Along the northern section of the site, Tradepoint Atlantic plans to develop 150,000 square feet of retail space and hopefully attract a hotel. In a sign of how much the former steel manufacturing site has changed, a selling point of the retail development is that it will be rimmed by green space along the formerly polluted Tin Mill Canal. 

In total, the project is expected to attract more than $2 billion in private investment, create 17,000 construction and operations jobs, build out more than 15 million square feet of industrial and retail space, and add about 1 percent to Maryland’s gross state product. 




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