After 30 years of inactivity, the site of the old Owens-Illinois glass factory is finally seeing new development, as a Morgantown developer has committed to reinvigorating what’s now being called the Speedway Business Park.
In 2015, Merit Development, LLC purchased the land in east Fairmont with hopes to capitalize on the growing economic status of North Central West Virginia, according to Merit Development President Tom Laurita.
“With the growth of Morgantown and the Bridgeport/Clarksburg area, we felt that Fairmont has become sort of a sweet spot and is in a position to experience growth in the near future,” Laurita said.
In the years since the purchase of the property, Laurita and Merit Development Asset Manager Russell Bolyard said that plenty of behind-the-scenes work has been underway, despite development itself not starting until June 1 of this year.
“We’re really still in the early preliminary stages of development,” Bolyard said. “We’re moving the earth. There was a lot of prep work since 2015 that went into the permitting and the cleanup of the site to prepare it for constriction … All of that work had to be done in order to start the earth work…
“It was a good bit of work. There was testing and the studying of the area, and then the development of the cleanup plan and the cleanup. It took about two years. We got our final completion report in late January of this year,” he said.
In addition, Fairmont City Planner Sandra Scaffidi said Merit has been doing some heavy work to make sure that, once completed, the park won’t be affected by heavy rainfall or flooding.
“They’ve been working with FEMA to change the flood-way there to create more developable land,” Scaffidi said. “There’s a channel that runs right through the property, Originally, it was wide and shallow, so now they’re making it narrower and deeper. It’ll retain the same amount of water, but create more developable land.”
Bolyard said that Merit is about 25 or 30 percent finished with the earth-moving, with hopes to be fully completed with this phase of development by the end of autumn.
The development, Bolyard said, would be a huge boom to the area, bringing in businesses, jobs and hope to Fairmont.
“The area is zoned industrial right now, and so it a commercial aspect to that and light industrial work could be done there,” Bolyard said. “We hope to attract business that will improve that area. We’re hoping to provide more jobs and be an asset to Fairmont.”
Scaffidi agreed, and said that the park, once completed, could change the face of the east side for the better.
“Aside from bringing quality jobs into our area and increasing our tax base, they are reusing a piece of land that was considered a Brownfields site,” Scaffidi said. “We can’t make new land in Fairmont, so we have to reuse what we have. I think they are creating a whole new energy on east side, putting new businesses there and encouraging new development.”
Earlier in July, Bolyard and Laurita attended a Fairmont City Council meeting, hoping the city would go along with their plan to name the park’s future roads Glass Avenue, Bottle Works Avenue and Progress Street, each named in dedication to the work done at the site before Merit’s involvement. The council unanimously passed the ordinance to name the streets.
“The actual naming is a play on the historical significance of the site with the Owens-Illinois glass factory,” Laurita said. “It was a major employer at one time, and there’s a lot of history in glass-making on that site, so we saw the history and decided to continue that and make sure people remember what was there and how great it once was. Hopefully, we can bring it back.”
Bolyard shared his sentiment, and said that with the new park, they hope to bring the site back to its former glory.
“It was a productive area at one time,” Bolyard said. “Over 1,000 people were employed there. We actually named one of the streets that will go in there ‘Progress Avenue.’We’re working with the city to bring that area back into a progressive state. It was dormant for over 30 years. We hope people tolerate us while we’re here doing the work so we can bring it back into a progressive state.”
While the park is still a long way from completion, work is being done every day, and Laurita said that soon Fairmont will be treated to a high quality, well-maintained business park.
“I hope it becomes a fully developed, vibrant community business park — a place where Fairmont residents can have a place to work and hopefully shop and whatever they need to do in the area. We can create a vibrant community once again on the east side.”
Staff writer John Mark Shaver can be reached at 304-844-8485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.