Owner still optimistic about Solvay site

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

The above-ground environmental remediation of the 45-acre former Solvay Coke & Gas Co. site on Milwaukee’s near south side has been completed, and property owner Tom Short says he remains optimistic the former industrial site will be redeveloped.
Short, managing partner of Golden Marina Causeway LLC, which owns the property, said he retains his original vision for the site at 311 E. Greenfield Ave. to include $800 million in redevelopment, including several high-rise office or condominium buildings.
Short said he has been interviewing potential developers who could either purchase the property from him or partner with him on the project.
Although he declined to name any of the national developers he has had talks with about the property, Short said he hopes to have an agreement with one of them signed in the next several months.
"Several (developers) are interested now, and we’re negotiating with them," Short said. "They may or may not use the plan I set forward, but I do envision mixed use. We’re thinking about $800 million in development conservatively."
Short said he strongly believes ground will be broken on new development there in the next year.
The property sits along the Kinnickinnic River, just west of the Port of Milwaukee, and could give condo residents or office tenants views of downtown, Lake Michigan, the river and the Allen Bradley clock tower.
Short said he is now working to complete paperwork to document the above-ground remediation. That paperwork needs to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Sam Borries, an on-scene coordinator with the EPA, confirmed that Short has completed the above-ground remediation of the property.
About $5 million has been spent on above-ground remediation at the site, Short said. Asbestos, piping, tanks and drum containers have been removed, and much of the steel and old machinery from the site has been recycled or sent to museums or historical societies for preservation.
The cleanup project has been funded by Golden Marina Causeway and Cleveland-Cliffs Mining Co. Golden Marina Causeway is comprised of Short and another investor, whom he declined to identify. The company purchased the Solvay site from Cleveland-Cliffs for $465,000 in early 2003.
Hulks of former industrial buildings still lurk on the property, along with a limited amount of machinery, piles of gravel and even a few empty foundations of old buildings. From 1902 to 1983, the Solvay Coke & Gas Co. used the property to make coke from coal to use as fuel in furnaces in foundries and steel mills. Natural gas also was manufactured at the site.
Borries said Short, or any developer, will need to address any below-ground contamination before any development project can move forward on the site.
"We have some idea (about the sub-surface contamination on the site)," Borries said. "But we don’t have the full idea of the amount of contamination. That needs to be determined."
Short agreed, but said he believes any sub-surface contamination is minimal.
"There’s one part of the property – about five acres – where there is some possible underground contamination," Short said. "I don’t feel like it will be a problem. But we won’t know until we have a development plan and start digging."
The five acres of potentially contaminated soil are located on the northwest corner of the property. He said the rest of the property, about 40 acres, has never held industrial operations and should be ready for new development.
Testing needs to be done to determine the below-ground contamination on the entire site, said Craig Melodia, associate regional counsel for the EPA’s Midwest Region.
That testing will take at least one year, said Demaree Collier, Midwest Region EPA Superfund remedial project manager. Planning to remediate any contamination that is found will likely take another year, she said.
Although environmental testing and remediation planning at the site could take several years, a development project could move forward during those phases, Melodia said.
"It could be that planning and engineering work could dovetail with the (cleanup) process," Melodia said.
Melodia also said the EPA is hoping to gain the cooperation of both former and current property owners and contaminators to streamline the remediation process.
Short said he will look for a developer who will ask for the smallest amount of public dollars for the project, if any, emphasizing that he has been able to clean up the above-ground contamination with private dollars.
"A project is a good project if it works on its own first, without government money," Short said. "If the government enhances it down the road, fine, but it’s got to stand on its own merits. We’ll pick the one that has the most credentials with the city and the financial wherewithal to carry it through."
Short listed the property for sale for development in early 2004 with a jaw-dropping price tag of $26.4 million. Although the property isn’t currently listed, Short said he is still receiving calls about it.

March 18, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display