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Original article appeared in The Weirton Daily Times
June 4, 2021

CRAIG HOWELL, Managing editor

WEIRTON — Officials with the Frontier Group of Companies say construction of their planned infrastructure improvements to former steel-making land in Weirton could begin within the next year.

Company officials met with Weirton Council Thursday, to provide the city with the latest information on plans to attract business prospects to property which once served as the home of Weirton Steel Corp.

“The city of Weirton, I believe, is at a crossroads,” City Manager Joe DiBartolomeo said in opening the meeting at the Weirton Municipal Building.

David Franjoine, chief executive officer, of the Frontier Group of Companies, explained the company has been working since acquiring the property in 2017 to prepare the land, with the majority of planned demolition set to be complete by the end of September.

“We’ve done a lot of work at the site,” Franjoine said.

The Frontier Group already has invested more than $80 million, and is working with the city, as well as state and federal representatives to acquire an additional $65 million toward three project phases in order to complete its infrastructure development plan.

Current estimates show the earliest construction could begin in the first quarter of 2022, with completion in early 2023.

Rob Zuchlewski, chief operating officer, said, as the Frontier Group owns the property, it eliminates many of the usual hurdles involved.

“We own all the land,” Zuchlewski said. “That makes it almost a speed of light timeline.”

The first phase focuses on the construction of three miles of industrial access road, which officials say would open up 500 acres of land for development. The road, which would begin at a realigned Cove Road/Weir Avenue intersection, has been designed with input from several business prospects.

“These aren’t just random roads drawn on a map,” Patrick Ford, business development director for the Frontier Group, said.

The access road also would have intersections with Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, stretching through the Frontier Crossings property onto Brown’s Island.

According to city Planning and Development Director Jessica Gumm, as they are seeking state and federal funds to complete the road, she believes it would be maintained by the state of West Virginia and be available for public use.

Ward 5 Councilwoman Flora Perrone noted the public has never had access to that area of the city.

The second phase would include repairs to portions of 8 miles of rail yard spur to support railcar transloading activities, improved access and repairs to existing barge loading facilities on the Ohio River, barge cells and riverside yards.“You won’t find another site like it in West Virginia,” Ford said of the planned port facility.

The third phase includes preparations of Brown’s Island, which officials say could accommodate 900,000 square feet of industrial space in addition to a planned solar array now estimated to produce 20 megawatts of renewable energy.

“A lot of the prospects we are talking to, within their mission, have a green component,” Ford said, noting the Frontier Group also likes to incorporate renewable energy projects into its work.

The third phase also would focus on two bridges – one from West Virginia and one from Ohio – to provide access to the island.

Franjoine said the bridge crossing the main channel of the river was reviewed by a third party engineering firm and found to be stable, but plans are to replace its decking.“It was very well built by the steel mill,” he said. “It was probably over-designed for what it will be used.”

Ward 6 Councilman Enzo Fracasso noted the bridge carried heavy traffic around the clock when it was in regular use. A planned site visit was canceled because of weather, but officials said one would be arranged for council at a future time.