Land bank wants vacant foundry

January 9, 2012
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Kent County commissioners will decide later this month whether to reassign a once-prominent manufacturing site to the Kent County Land Bank Authority.

The request for them to do that is coming from County Treasurer Kenneth Parrish, who established and chairs the land bank. Parrish told members of the Finance Committee last week that he would like the county to transfer ownership of the Sparta Foundry and its four-acre site at 252 Gardner St. in Sparta Township to the authority, a move that would also have to be approved by the county’s legal staff.

“We are not incurring any additional environmental liabilities,” said Linda Howell, assistant corporate counsel for the county.

Parrish said the site is contaminated, has been evaluated by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and qualifies for remediation under the state’s brownfield redevelopment laws. He said he would work with The Right Inc. to determine the options available for the property, which could include demolition, clean-up, and the likelihood of finding a new user for the site.

“There are some more advanced conversations going on,” said Parrish of a potential sale. “What our land bank board is attempting to do is to address some of the issues in the county. Our board is trying to be an economic-development driver, too.”

Commissioner Stan Ponstein serves on the authority’s board and told the Business Journal he felt the full commission will agree to transfer the foundry to the land bank. He said the authority has been working with The Right Place and the state DEQ, and having the land bank take possession of the property would eliminate an “eyesore” — not just in Sparta Township but in the county, as well.

“I’m really grateful we have a land bank in place to take care of this matter,” said Commissioner Tom Antor, whose district includes Sparta Township.

The state DEQ has the foundry property on its Part 201 list of contaminated sites. The agency found remnants of trichlorethane, tetrachloroetheylene and dichloroetheylene on the site — all chemicals used in the manufacturing process. The DEQ listed the property’s status as an “interim response” was in progress.

Getting brownfield tax credits will play a key factor in whether the site is redeveloped. Parrish said the village’s legal counsel told him that the land bank had to be involved so the property could qualify. Sparta Township also told Parrish a few months ago that it did not want to buy the 265,000-square-foot building and the adjacent property for the back taxes. Parrish pointed out the private firm that buys the site would receive the tax benefits.

The county foreclosed on the vacant property for unpaid taxes in 2009 and offered the site for sale at two public auctions that year. According to county records, the last listed owner was Goetze Corp. of America, which reportedly had an office in Muskegon. Another record showed Federal-Mogul Bursheld GmbH, a German firm, as the parent company of Goetze Corp. Goetze reportedly bought the plant on the cheap just for the materials it could recycle from it and had no intention of operating it.

As for the building’s most recent history, Muskegon-based Kurdziel Industries purchased the Sparta Foundry in 1998, investing $2 million into the facility, and produced small automotive castings there until it stopped production at the end of 2004 because it couldn’t match the lower prices of imported castings. Kurdziel has since been sold.

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